Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Enhancing Humanity

Erin Hoffman | 11 Mar 2008 12:42
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"Humanity has always lived in both a 'real' or physical world and also in a 'virtual' world. The real world demands that humans engage in labor intensive tasks in order to biologically survive. The virtual world occurs during leisure and makes no demands, and yet it is also part of the 'biological imperative,' for its function is to enhance one's humanity." - Dr. Elliot Avedon

Waterloo, Ontario, a small city largely impacted by its temporary student residents (approximately 17 percent of its population when classes are in session), may be one of the most fascinating regions in the world for the future of game development.

Recently the Intelligent Community Forum rated Waterloo the "top intelligent community of 2007." It possesses an unusually high per-capita population of PhDs and a university known as "the MIT of Canada" - the University of Waterloo - which in turn possesses the highest-ranked department of Leisure Studies in North America.

And Waterloo's game museum, the Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games, is the only museum in the world that focuses purely on games.

The Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games
Founded in 1971, just three years after the establishment of Waterloo's department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, the museum originated as the private collection of Dr. Elliot Avedon, for whom it was renamed in 2000, five years after his retirement from the department.

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Dr. Avedon got his start in the study of play with the U.S. Army when he was assigned to a squadron recreation center. When he got out, he entered the department of recreation at William & Mary, which, unlike other recreation programs at the time, was not housed with physical education, but with sociology. "I got a different slant on the place of recreation in people's minds," he said.

The distinction between "toy" and "game" has been accepted as necessary by ludologists for some time, but Dr. Avedon's reflects a unique perspective: "A game is an encapsulated social system. ... A toy takes on the attributes that the player wants," he says. Two people can never truly enjoy a toy in the same way, due to the individual fantasy that specifically brings that toy to life in the player's mind. A game, by contrast, is experienced identically between players, whether they are separated by the span of an arm, or a hundred years of history; they may follow different paths, but because a game is defined by its rules, it is definitively experienced in a singular, repeatable fashion. This effect also makes a game a time capsule, both a product and representation of the culture in which it was created - the reason for Dr. Avedon's intense anthropological and sociological interest in games as cultural artifacts.

The museum today possesses over 5,000 articles, and, indeed, the challenge of restricting its contents is greater than the challenge of filling it. The museum website receives approximately 25,000 hits per month from 141 countries all over the world - a testament to the value and broad application of its mission.

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