Playing for the Legend in the Age of Empires II Online Community

  • Matthew Horrigan Simon Fraser University


Players in competitive games do not always pursue efficient victory. This essay is concerned with alternative goals in competitive videogaming. Here I examine practices of play, spectation, and casting in the Age of Empires II (Ensemble Studios, 1999) community, where playing “for the legend” is a form of heroic play that differs from playing for the win. Building on Celia Pearce’s (2009) ethnographic study of play communities, Will Wright’s (2004) notion of “possibility space,” Roger Caillois’s (1958/2001) theory of forms of play, and Roland Barthes's (1957/1972) semiology of myth, I argue in favour of a design philosophy supporting play for the legend as distinct—if potentially complementary—to both (1) the meritocratic agonism of esports and (2) attempts at capturing social life within game mechanics. Age of Empires II derives value from its function as a technology supporting a friendly community beyond what is encoded in software. The game’s success is not determined only by developer design but rather depends upon the work of a community defining its own ideals about what makes a good game and a heroic player.

January 12, 2022