“Play is a structuring activity, the activity out of which understanding comes” (Salen, Zimmerman, 298).
There are about as many different definitions of play as there are people in the world – in fact, if you were to follow the definition above from Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, you would probably find yourself “playing” trying to create your own definition. Creating a working definition of what it means to play requires structuring the concepts you associate with play, refining them into a few words, and ultimately understanding the term for yourself.
In order to understand what “playing” is for us universally we must first find instances of the term in our own vocabulary. For example, you can say “I’m playing hockey tonight,” or “I’m going to play with my new laptop” – or it could be used when referring to the arts; “he played that saxophone brilliantly,” or “let’s go and see the play tonight.” While the uses for the term are close to endless, they are all essentially describing a similar experience. Yes, going to the opera is much different from trying out a new computer, but there are similar purposes for these activities at their root – to take pleasure out of something.
In fact, it’s commonplace to associate playing with “the universal language of childhood” (Play Scotland). It’s likely that if you were asked to define what playing is, the first concept in your mind would be similar to children playing with toys in the mud. It is important to note that, much like when children are playing, in all associations of play there is no correct way to go about it. This is universally true of the term.
Now that’s not to say that “to play” always means to enjoy something. For example, imagine you’re playing with the settings on your camera so you can turn off a distracting menu. This is not necessarily an enjoyable experience, but rather, an activity “out of which understanding comes” (Salen, Zimmerman, 298).
Playing is an undefined, self-immersing experience in which understanding emerges. There are no rules and there isn’t always a goal, but a development of one’s comprehension is always evident. “Playing around” is not a trivial pursuit – it is just another way of learning.
- “AskOxford: play.” AskOxford: Free online dictionary resources from Oxford University Press. Web. 01 Oct. 2009. <http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/play?view=uk>.
- “Define:play.” Google. Web. 01 Oct. 2009. <http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&defl=en&q=define:play&ei=7kXFStPzBMPZlAeirKiSAw&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&ved=0CAsQkAE>.
- Kapetaneas, Nick, and Adelaide Kapetaneas. “”What is Play?”” Online interview. 1 Oct. 2009.
- “Play – What Is Play?, The Importance Of Play, Elements Of Children’s Play, Social Elements Of Play.” Social Issues Reference. Web. 01 Oct. 2009. <http://social.jrank.org/pages/492/Play.html>.
- “Play Scotland: What is play.” Play Scotland: Home. Web. 01 Oct. 2009. <http://www.playscotland.org/what-is-play/>.
- Salen, Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play Game Design Fundamentals. New York: The MIT, 2003. Print.
- Séguin, Jonathan. “What is Play?” Online interview. 1 Oct. 2009.
- “What does it mean to play?” Wouldn’t stop picking at it. 21 Sept. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2009. <http://www.adrianapalanca.com/2009/09/on-reading-pile-this-week.html>.