Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (SFIII:3S), barely constitutes as a 90's game, having been released in 1999, however it's the oldest fighting game that I am most meticulously familiar with. While reading the essays by Huizinga, Caillois, and Suits I maintained the mindset of "how do these theories relate to fighting games?". I'm a huge fighting game fan, so my gaming, game design, and game theory, inquiries are based in the mechanics and strategies of fighting games.
Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike is a traditional fighting game, where two-players are facing one another in two-dimensional space. As Caillois, Huizinga, and Suits all support, Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike is governed by a set of rules, voluntarily engaged, takes place within its own space, etc. thus making it a traditional example of a game. The objective is to deplete the "life points" of the opposing player first, within the time limit, and through the use of the characters provided within the game.
With that being said, a few points really stood out to me while reading through "The Definition of Play and The Classification of Games" by Caillois. I agree with five out of six of Caillois criteria for "play" -- that "play" is free, separate, uncertain, governed by rules, and make-believe. However, I could not find my self to agree with the one idea that play is "unproductive"-- that play creates "neither goods, nor wealth, no new elements of any kind, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game" (Caillois 128). I could not decipher the phrase "no new elements of any kind", as I feel that fighting games produce mental assets/elements that may, or may not have existed prior to a play-session.
There have often been times when playing Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, that I have learned things about my competitors through their style of play -- a sort of glimpse into the opposing player's personalities or value systems. For example, if I am aggressively attacking a friend of mine and they shows signs of a short-temper during "play", and then I become aware of this short-temper thereafter in other aspects of my friend's life, I have gained knowledge about my friend through our play session. The "play" session didn't create the short temper of my friend, but now I am aware and informed of this personality trait through this session. I would consider this a gained mental asset, increased knowledge -- productive. In a nutshell, I feel that "play" can be and lead to "productivity", but it just depends on whether we are talking in the physical or mental/psychological sense.
Despite disagreeing with Caillois on that minor point, I thought the description of two of the fundamental game categories "Agon" and "Mimicry" were especially relevant to Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, and fighting games in general.
Agon is " a group of games that would seem to be competitive... which equality of chances is artificially created... under ideal conditions, susceptible of giving precise and incontestable value to the winner's triumph" (Caillois 131). This category applies to a game like Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike because it is a quintessential example for this definition. SFIII: 3rd Strike is obviously a competitive game; the only commands that you may issue are those of kicks, punches, throws, guarding, parrying, etc. It is strictly a game about fighting, with little else to do. The system is set up so that each participant has the ability to select from the same list of 20-something characters, and even use the same character at the same time. Though it is obvious that the characters are different from one another, it is assumed that each character is equally capable of defeating another character -- and even in the case that the characters are not equal, you still have the ability to select your opponent's character. You each have a life bar, a special meter, and the ability to perform special moves. "It leaves the champion to his own devices, to evoke the best possible game of which his capable, and t obliges him to play the game withing the fixed limits... so that in return the victor's superiority will be beyond dispute" (Caillois 132). The goal is to deplete the life points of your opponent, this will determine which player is "superior" -- as Caillois puts itAs a fighting-game-centric game observer and player, I feel that Caillois definition of the Agon fit very well with fighting games.
There's also an element of Mimicry -- "becoming an illusory character oneself, and of so behaving" (Caillois 135)-- where the player is assuming the role of a character and facing the opponent as that character, and not himself. This idea of "role-play" is inherently conveyed in SFIII:TS as the players cannot create themselves in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, but have to play as pre-designed archetypes. Players will make statements like "he hit me with the special move" or "he parried my fireball", where neither player actually gets hit or shoots a fireball from their hands, but they've projected themselves into the game and become the character on-screen.
These two classifications seemed to apply most to the definition of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and fighting games at large. These games take ordinary players with varying physical attributes and place them into a virtual arena, where none of that matters. Creating a situation where the developers "attempt to substitute perfect situations for the normal confusing of contemporary life" (Caillois 135), where now everyone -- who is interested -- has a fighting chance.