The Definition of PLAY

The definition of the word ‘play’ proposed by many scholars and philosophers differ in various ways, but most of them agree on the point that it is an exercise or activity conducted by free will and for amusement. Although the word ‘play’ has some ambiguities in its definition, play is definitely one of the fundamental activities that people conduct most often in daily life. In fact, playing is not something that humans learned after their civilization, but is just a pure activity that people conduct in a regular basis without actually ever learning how to perform it. That is why many people say that play is highly related with intrinsic values of individuals.

Just Playing by Anita Wadley

In “Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture”, J. Huizinga classifies play as an activity consisted of the following three components: voluntary, disinterested, and limited by time and space. However, I do not agree with Huizinga’s definition of play. According to his definition, most of the activities that most people in today’s society often consider as play should be reclassified as something different. I believe that whatever activity that one conducts can in fact, be considered as play, if the person either enjoys doing it or feels joyful after successfully carrying out the activity. If we always use Huizinga’s definition of play to define play, we would often have to devote a lot of time debating with each other on whether or not if an activity should be considered as playing.

Play your way, everyday

In my opinion, ‘play’ should be a word that can be used to describe any kinds of activities practiced by people, if it only satisfies the condition that they make people enjoyable. The voluntary component of Huizinga’s definition of play does not really make total sense to me, as determining whether or not an activity is conducted voluntarily is ambiguous. If this actually fits in to the definition of play, no one in the world would be able to ever say that someone other than themselves are ‘playing’, as people never know whether or not others are conducting certain actions voluntarily unless they are told by them. Also, it is merely the person’s state of mind at that particular moment of time that can determine the voluntariness of his or her action. In some cases, the one that actually conducts the activity can possibly be confused of whether he or she just did that voluntarily or not. Even in cases when people are definite that they carried out an activity voluntarily, the fact that he or she did it voluntarily is actually not a ‘fact’, since states of mind can never be categorized as a fact. Hence, one of the components of Huizinga’s definition of play is in fact not definite, as the process of determining the voluntariness of actions is very vague.

Additionally, I do not agree with the disinterest component of his definition as it does not clearly explain why activities that are disinterested and not disinterested are differently considered when defining play. I believe that a non-disinterested activity can change to a disinterested activity at any time, and vice versa. This would make defining whether or not an action or activity is a play very complicated. Furthermore, I assert that playing not always has to be limited by time and space, as for various people, enjoying daily life without caring about the limitations of time and space can obviously be the best way of playing, especially in the type of society we are living in today. Although Huizinga’s definition of play came out from his intense, philosophical thought-process, I believe that his definition does not really fit into what people today consider as playing.

– Byung Joon Lee


One thought on “The Definition of PLAY

  1. I agree with most of your analysis and opinions regarding Huizinga’s definition of play. However, I do think that it’s pretty straightforward to determine whether or not play is voluntary. I think being voluntary is an important aspect of play. I do agree though that most of Huizinga’s definitions are pretty vague and hard to interpret explicitly.


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