Games and Sport in Everyday Life by Robert Perinbanayagam

If there’s a sociological study that would seem to have broad appeal, it’s one that looks at games and sport. Hunter College professor Robert Perinbanayagam’s Games and Sport in Everyday Life: Dialogues and Narratives of the Self is instead a piece of “professional” sociology. Its technical language and Byzantine prose will challenge even the not-so-casual reader. Its intellectual argument speaks most directly to the author’s social science peers. What’s more, the book isn’t really a sociology of games and sport so much as it is an application of Perinbanayagam’s dialogic theory of social interaction, which uses games and sport as a case study. But when decoded, Games and Sport in Everyday Life offers insights worth noting.

The first is that games and sport aren’t diversions; they’re microcosms of society. They provide structures through which identity is created, social interaction regulated, and values and beliefs perpetuated. Games and sport are essentially conversational models that help us make sense of the world of experience through symbolic systems for engaging others and negotiating physical and social reality. One of their more important functions is catharsis, providing frames for working out problems of self, others, and the order of things. The lessons of games and sport extend to those who watch as well as to those who participate. Thus games and sport help establish social solidarity and foster social cohesion.

For a study that attempts to demonstrate the importance of games and sport in constructing individual and group identity, the book is surprisingly devoid of any discussion of role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and The Sims, or the social implications of online gaming. (For that go to McKenzie Wark’s work in progress GAM3R 7TH3ORY.) Indeed, substituting the concept of virtuality for the notion of utopia Perinbanayagam introduces in the last chapter might make for a more satisfactory conclusion to this book. In the closing paragraphs, Perinbanayagam writes that games and sport in modern society are respites from alienation, somewhat contradicting the book’s central premise. As any hardcore gamer knows, racking up points isn’t about escape, it’s about getting to the next level. And there’s something in that ripe for further sociological study.