AskDefine | Define playing

Dictionary Definition



1 the act of playing a musical instrument
2 the action of taking part in a game or sport or other recreation
3 the performance of a part or role in a drama [syn: acting, playacting, performing]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. present participle of play

Extensive Definition

Play is a rite and a quality of mind in engaging with one's worldview. Play may consist of amusing, pretend or imaginary interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions or interplay. The rites of play are evident throughout nature and are perceived in people and animals, particularly in the cognitive development and socialization of children. Play often entertains props, animals, or toys in the context of learning and recreation. Some play has clearly defined goals and when structured with rules is entitled a game, whereas some play exhibits no such goals nor rules and is considered to be "unstructured" in the literature.

Working definitions

As a theoretical concept, play is challenging to define. Rather than collapsing all views of this quality into a singular definition, play may be best envisioned as descriptive of a range of activities that may be ascribed to humans and non-humans. In general discourse, people use the word "play" as a contrast to other parts of their lives: sleep, eating, washing, work, rituals, etc. Different types of specialists may also use the word "play" in different ways. Play therapists evoke the expansive definition of the term in Play Therapy and Sandbox Play. Play is cast in the modal of Sacred Play within Transpersonal Psychology.
Sociologist David Reisman proffers that play is a quality (as different from an activity). Mark Twain commented that play and work are words used to describe the same activity under different circumstances. This viewpoint is reflected in the work of anthropologists who model a distinction between "play" and "nonplay" in different cultures.
Concerted endeavor has been made to identify the qualities of play, but this task is not without its ambiguities. For example, play is commonly oft-defined as a frivolous and nonserious activity; yet when watching children at play, one is impressed at their transfixed seriousness and entrancing absorption with which they engage in it. Other criteria of play include a relaxed pace and freedom versus compulsion. Yet play seems to have its intrinsic constraints as in, "You're not playing fair."
People at the National Institute for Play are creating a clinical, scientific framework for play. On their website they introduce seven patterns of play (along with reference sources for each) which indicate the huge range of types of activities and states of being which play encompasses.
When play is structured and goal orientated it is often done as a game. Play can also be seen as the activity of rehearsing life events e.g. young animals play fighting. These and other concepts or rhetorics of play are discussed at length by Brian Sutton-Smith in the book The Ambiguity of Play. Sometimes play is dangerous, such as in extreme sports. This type of play could be considered stunt play, whether engaging in play frighting, sky-diving, or riding a device at high speed in an unusual manner.
The seminal text in play studies is Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. This work popularized the notion of the Magic Circle as a conceptual space in which play occurs. That is, the state in which the various actions in play have meaning e.g. kicking (and only kicking) a ball in one direction or another, using physical force to impede another player (in a way which might be illegal outside the context of the game).
Another classic in play theory is Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois. This work extends and in large parts disputes the theories put forward by Huizinga.
A notable contemporary play theorist is Jesper Juul who works on both pure play theory and the application of this theory to Computer game studies. The theory of play and its relationship with rules and game design is also extensively discussed by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in their book: Rules of Play : Game Design Fundamentals.
In computer games the word gameplay is often used to describe the concept of play. Play can also be sexual play between two persons, e.g., Flirting." In music, to "play" may mean to produce sound on a musical instrument, including performance or solitary reproduction of a particular musical composition through one's personal use of such an instrument or by actuating an electrical or mechanical reproduction device.

Childhood and play

Play is freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and personally directed. Playing has been long recognized as a critical aspect of Child development. Some of the earliest studies of play started in the 1890s with G. Stanley Hall, the father of the child study movement that sparked an interest in the developmental, mental and behavioral world of babies and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study in 2006 entitled: "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds". The report states: "free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient"
Many of the most prominent researchers in the field of psychology (Jean Piaget, William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Lev Vygotsky, etc.) have viewed play as endemic to the human species.
Play is explicitly recognized in Article 31 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, November 29, 1989). which states:
  1. Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  2. Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activities.
Childhood 'play' is also seen by Sally Jenkinson (author of The Genius of Play) to be an intimate and integral part of childhood development. "In giving primacy to adult knowledge, to our 'grown-up' ways of seeing the world, have we forgotten how to value other kinds of wisdom? Do we still care about the small secret corners of children's wisdom?"
Modern research in the field of 'affective neuroscience' has uncovered important links between role playing and neurogenesis in the brain.(Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience 98). Sociologist Roger Caillois coined the phrase ilinx to describe the momentary disruption of perception that comes from forms of physical play that disorient the senses, especially balance.
In addition evolutionary psychologists have begun to expound the phylogenetic relationship between higher intelligence in humans and its relationship to play.
Perhaps the most progressive research on play has come from Stuart Brown,MD and the National Institute for Play
Stevanne Auerbach mentions the role of play therapy in treating children suffering from traumas, emotional issues, and other problems. She also emphasizes the importance of toys with high play value for child development and the role of the parent in evaluating toys and being the child's play guide.


Further reading

portal Sports and games
  • Caillois, R. (2001). Man, play, and games. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press (originally published in 1958; translated from the French by Meyer Barash).
  • Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo ludens; a study of the play-element in culture. Boston,, Beacon Press.
  • Jenkinson, Sally (2001). The Genius of Play. Hawthorn Press
  • Sutton-Smith, B. (1997). The ambiguity of play. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
  • The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits Gordon M. Burghardt

External links

playing in Danish: Leg
playing in Erzya: Налксемат
playing in Icelandic: Leikur
playing in Japanese: 遊び
playing in Norwegian: Lek
playing in Finnish: Leikki
playing in Swedish: Lek

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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