Reimagining Play with Lewis Carroll’s Croquet

Curator's Note

Transgressing the bounds of normative game design should not stop at the level of representation. Digital game scholar, Edmond Y. Chang, also calls for a “Queer(er) play”—a radical reimagination of the very grammars and logics through which we relate and act in games. As Chang puts it, such gameplay would depart from paradigms “grounded in normative ideologies,” like “competition, exploitation, colonization, speed, violence, [or] leveling up”(19). What might this gameplay look like?

French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, offers a literary example to aid our speculation: the croquet match in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. For Deleuze, where normative games have pre-existing categorical rules, the “ideal game”—exemplified by Carroll’s croquet—has “no precise rules”; each turn invents and adheres to its own rule (58). Therefore, rather than pre-determined categories dividing player actions or chance occurrences into gains or losses (and, ultimately, winning or losing), the ideal game affirms all contingent happenings as valid. Hence, not only are there no “wrong” moves and no winners or losers but the entire game is, itself, reinvented with each play—the form of the game determined only by events as they unfold.

While the animated version, unlike the novel’s many player match, renders a binary croquet competition between Alice and Queen, it, nevertheless, foregrounds how the living game objects—the hedgehogs, balls; the flamingos, mallets; and the soldiers, arches—collapse distinctions between what’s inside and outside the game. On the one hand, the existing monarchical hierarchy effectively structures the game as the objects, becoming performers, vie to keep their heads. On the other hand, their mischievousness also precipitates the transmogrification of existing social relations. At one point, for example, the role of player and object, human and animal, invert—a flamingo holds Alice as a mallet. In this way, game becomes life and life becomes game, the reciprocal indiscernibility of the two opening, perhaps, the reinvention of both. 

Beyond games that derive formal paradigms from “normative ideologies” (Chang 19), Carroll’s croquet suggests that non-binary, eventful play emerges from coupling “game” with the contingencies of life itself. Radical gameplay might, then, look more like life.


Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Chang, Edmond Y. “Queergaming” in Queer Game Studies. Eds. Bo Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Minnesota UP, 2017. Pp. 15-24.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Tenth Series of the Ideal Game” in Logic of Sense. Trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, ed., Constantin V. Boundas. Columbia UP, 1969/1990. Pp. 58-65

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.