Sunday, February 6, 2011

Notions of Play

Hi, all. I'm Zoe, and this week's discussion on play really interested me, probably just because I like wrestling with difficult definitions. In high school, a friend and I came up with a joke definition for a sport - anything you're better at while drunk is not a sport. I don't have anything quite as quippy for games, as I think it's not as easy to narrow down, particularly when combined with the issue of what play is.

Games are meant to have structure. They're meant to have rules. You can designate someone a cheat or a "spoilsport," as Huizinga puts it, because there is an accepted order that is put upon the players. Calvinball (as played in Calvin & Hobbes) is a game only in the strictest sense - there are rules, but they are ever changing and sometimes impossible to discern.

Games are usually seen as a hobby or an escape, a pleasant diversion from everyday life. But there are plenty of people who make their living off of games, from card players to video game testers to (arguably) athletes. So how does this connect to the notion of "play"?

Play is another word associated with leisure time. It's most often associated with children - "Go outside and play," or "Are you having a playdate?" Play is the verb used with games - "I'm going to play some Halo," or "I'm playing Uno." It is also the verb used in acting and in music - to play a part or to play an instrument.

What, then, is play? The idea that play is unstructured may technically be true, but even in the construct of a child playing pretend, there are rules that the child has decided on. There are rules for playing a part in a play or for playing the trumpet. It may be more unstructured than a game - no set objective, for example, and no actual punishment for rule infringement - but there will always be some kind of underlying structure to how we play. Even play wrestling (as Huizinga mentions animals doing in his essay) has an objective - to win.

And with that, I leave you with this:

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