Roger and Decision Review Systems


The 2013 Ashes Series in England has provided abundant opportunities to consider the role of a decision review system (DRS) in cricket specifically and sport generally.
I have written three posts on Clyde Street about decision review in the last two weeks. The impetus for these posts has not been the very public debate about the accuracy of the system but rather Simon Taufel’s Spirit of Cricket lecture.


I have been reflecting on the lecture and the recent public discussion about decision review and as a result I have returned to read Roger Caillois’ Man, Play and Games. I am particularly interested in his views on agon (competition), alea (chance), paidia (spontaneous play) and ludus (the resolution of an intentionally created gratuitous challenge).
Roger observes with regard to agon:

A whole group of games would seem to be competitive, that is to say, like a combat in which equality of chances is artificially created, in order that, the adversaries should confront each other under ideal conditions, susceptible of giving precise and incontestable value to the winner’s triumph.

Games characterised by alea are “based on a decision independent of the player, an outcome over which he has no control, and in which:

winning is the result of fate rather than triumphing over an adversary. More properly, destiny is the sole artisan of victory, and where there is rivalry, what is meant is that the winner has been more favoured by fortune than the loser.

Roger defines paidia as “spontaneous manifestations of the play instinct”. In ludus “the tension and skill of the player are not related to any explicit feeling of emulation or rivalry; the conflict is with the obstacle”. Ludus requires effort, patience, skill and ingenuity.
Gonzalo Frasca suggests that “the difference between paidia and ludus is that the latter incorporates rules that define a winner and a loser, whereas the former does not”. Deborah Vosser notes that “the play instinct (paidia) gradually evolves into an adaptation characterized by the quest for the resolution of an intentionally created gratuitous challenge (ludus)”.

Game Playing and DRS

I find the juxtaposition of Roger’s ideas on the classification of games and DRS in sport fascinating.
I do feel that the mediation of sports performance with broadcast images and the re-presentation of any aspect of performance as an editorial decision for spectators not at the live event, raises fundamental issues about game playing.
As we have moved towards ludus in agon contest we have allocated more and more significance to measurement and accuracy. As it stands, the DRS in cricket has many anomalies and is struggling to deal with the role alea and paidia play in supporting a play spirit.
I perceive that one of the issues with decision review is the confusion between the craving for absolute accuracy and the desire to enhance real-time decision making … in a very small number of cricket games played around the world.
I am concerned that the drive to agon/ludus contests supported by pervasive technology will lose the alea/paidia dimensions that induct us into play and organised games.
To adapt Roger’s terminology, the move from alea-mentary play to agon-istic competition will upset everyone unless we can come to terms with the constrained probability of making absolutely correct decisions in real-time.
My interest is focussed on supporting real-time decisions in DRS and non-DRS environments.
In these environments we should be able to accept chance (alea) with a profound sense of play (paidia) … if we are to recruit, support and develop umpires willing to accept the opportunity to partner with players (and players with umpires) to offer intrinsically rewarding game play.

 Photo Credits

Drouin schoolboys playing cricket (National Library of Australia, no known copyright restrictions)
Drouin schoolboys playing cricket (1) (National Library of Australia, no known copyright restrictions)
Time for a Game of Cricket  (Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, no known copyright restrictions)


  1. I am intrigued by the quest for certainty in decision making when we know it is an uncertain process at best. As well as the technological mediation of the process of decision making.

    • I agree, James. I think contests do have alea. Like you I am confused by micrometer approaches to adjudication.
      Away from DRS, I think players want referees and umpires to be consistent … even if they are wrong consistently! It enables a taken-for-grantedness.
      My interest is in supporting real-time decisions and offering umpires and referees a safe and interesting role in game playing.


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