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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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The Rules of Games and Spaces

The Rules of Games and Spaces

The essence of ‘games’ lies in a person’s immersion in play subject to rules. Immersion implies a complete and, more importantly, willing absorption in the activity. The difference between ‘play’ and ‘playing games’ is the presence of rules. All games have rules; even the ‘free play’ of childhood is subject to implied and agreed rules that are interpreted by the players.

Gadamer has written on the way in which the rules of a game relate to its playing

‘”The rules provide a framework for the playing of the game and determine the range of appropriate actions the players can take, but they do not account for the way the game is played or the way it turns out each time it is played’’.


Games and buildings are two very different things. Buildings are firmly rooted in the real world; they house functions that are relevant to the everyday lives of human civilisation, they respond to and interact with the context of buildings that surround them, and they have to be built to meet real world considerations such as environmental conditions and zoning codes.

Games, on the other hand, exist in the much more fluid world of the imagination, and more recently, the computer. In Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga describes the “Magic Circle”, the worlds that games create while they are played. Within these Magic Circles, the rules of the game are laws, which all players must obey. Even games that do not take place in imaginary worlds, such as sports or other physical games, create these spaces for themselves.

What games have that buildings today often do not, however, is a focus on the user; the inhabitant of the Magic Circle. The game is designed to keep their attention and maximize their enjoyment. Much of this is accomplished with the conflict of the players against one another or even computer generated monsters, but these artificial conflicts are only a small part of a much larger system. Game designers ultimately create user experience through the articulation of a game’s rules, the guidelines that constrict player movement within the world of the Magic Circle.


Maze Logic Tiles

Maze Logic Tiles

Pac-Man is one of the most iconic video games of all time, and most people (even non-gamers) have at least a passing familiarity with it. The aim of the game is fairly simple and direct – the player (you) is placed in a maze filled with pellets (food) and your objective is to collect (eat) all the pellets without making contact with four ghosts to advance to the next level. The ghosts, namely Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, were created to inject tension and excitement in the game. They each have their own personalities, codes based on which they behave within three modes: Chase, Scatter or Frightened. Within each mode they are programmed to behave in certain ways, which will either chase Pac-Man, move away from your current position or retreat towards individual home bases.




The entire game runs on these simple rules. Every element within the system of the game works on simple rules and only those, hence in a way perform very unintelligent functions individually. When combined with each other and put within a certain environment their behaviour appears to be extremely intelligent in the way they decide to chase, scatter or be frightened with respect to Pac-Man. They create networks within the environment and use each other to determine how they will move and what their target needs to be at every step.

A complete analysis of Pac-Man can be found here.


Working Electronic Model Of The Generator Project : Julia and John Frazer

Working Electronic Model Of The Generator Project : Julia and John Frazer

Generator (1976-79) sought to create conditions for shifting, changing personal interactions in a reconfigurable and responsive architectural project. Cedric Price developed a scheme of 150 12’ by 12’ mobile, combinable cubes constructed with off-the-shelf infill panels, glazing and sliding glass doors. To this kit of parts, he added catwalks; screens and boardwalks, all of which could be moved by mobile crane as desired by users to support whatever activities they had in mind, whether public or private, serious or banal. John and Julia Frazer proposed four programs that would use input from sensors attached to Generator’s components: the first three provided a “perpetual architect” drawing program that held the data and rules for Generator’s design; an inventory program that offered feedback on utilisation; an interface for “interactive interrogation” that let users model and prototype Generator’s layout before committing the design.

“In the event of the site not being organised or changed for some time the computer starts generating unsolicited plans and improvements,”

the Frazers wrote.  These plans would then be handed off to Factor, the mobile crane operator, who would move the cubes and other elements of Generator.

“In a sense the building can be described as being literally ‘intelligent’, should have a mind of its own.”

It would not only challenge its users, facilitators, architect and programmer—it would challenge itself.

By taking the playful so seriously, or the serious so playfully, by distorting the solid and the fixed, Generator shifted the roles of designers, actors, and users, calling into question who and what was responsible for interactions—and challenging the very performance of architecture.


  1. Snodgrass, Hermeneutics and the Application of Design Rules, Gadamer, Action and Reason, Department of Architecture and Design Science, University of Sydney, 1991,1–11, p. 6.
  2. Radford, Antony (2000). “Games and learning about form in architecture”, Automation in Construction 9 (4): 379-385.
  3. Pittman, J. (n.d.). The Pac-Man Dossier. Retrieved from Of Contents
  4. John Frazer, An Evolutionary Architecture, Architectural Association Publications, London 1995.

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