Throughout our lives, games provide us with an important way to interact and learn. From unfettered childhood play to the more competitive activities of adulthood, a little “playtime” is essential to maintain friendships, develop new skills and most importantly have some fun. In his eight-minute experimental animation Rules of Play, German filmmaker Merlin Flügel explores the freedom that games offer in our lives and poses the question: What happens if nobody questions the rules anymore?
Set in an unrecognisable, abstract world (that we assume is some kind of ‘Land of Games’) made up of building blocks and playground equipment, Rules of Play follows a community of occasionally masked individuals as they play a series of weirder and weirder games together. From a surreal game of ‘Spin the Bottle’ to a complex competition of ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’, once the sun goes down their random play takes a more organised, competitive feel – especially in the final game, a particularly intense bout of head-inflation.
“I tried to visually explore everything about games and play as a phenomenon”
As is the case with a lot of experimental filmmaking, Rules of Play feels like a film that will provoke multiple interpretations, depending on your personal outlook. Discussing his film, it feels like Flügel had a much more literal approach in mind. “I tried to visually explore everything about games and play as a phenomenon”, the director explains. Adding that his aim was to “get a bigger picture of what a game is or can be”.
To match its playful storyline, Flügel employs an equally spirited aesthetic to portray his surreal world of games. Though there’s something a little sinister about the visuals (the masked individuals? the somewhat industrial feel to the landscapes?), ultimately the aesthetic works to add to the off-kilter fun flowing through Rules of Play. Creating the games his unusual competitors play must have been a fun process.
Reminiscent of the work of fellow European animators, like Michael Frei and Robert Loebel, Rules of Play finds that perfect line between narrative and abstract filmmaking, existing in a surreal fantasy it’s difficult not to find yourself lost in. Shared with us by our friends at Miyu Distribution, Flügel’s short enjoyed an impressive festival run, winning a Jury Award in the Graduation Section of Annecy 2019, before being released on Miyu’s YouTube channel and picking up a Staff Pick on Vimeo. Tackling play in this film, the filmmaker is now working on a new short, focused on pleasure.