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The "Playing" Field: Attitudes, Activities, and the Conflation of Play and Games
Journal of the Philosophy of Sport (2011)
  • Chad R Carlson, Eastern Illinois University
Many philosophers have attempted to describe the nature of play and games. In doing so, they have come to a number of similar conclusions. Some authors speak of play and games interchangeably, while others regard them as two distinct phenomena. However, even some of those who attempted to distinguish games from play provided ambiguous or otherwise confusing descriptions. The end result has been a tendency to conflate the two entities. This conflation is so commonplace that we regularly speak of participating in all and any games as “playing games.” In this paper I address the issue of play-game conflation and show that it comes in many forms. I begin by citing examples of this problem that are found in the writings of Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens), Roger Caillois (Man, Play and Games), and Bernard Suits (The Grasshopper). All three authors, albeit in different ways, provide analyses of games and play and the relationship between them. Huizinga and Caillois so conflate play and games that they frequently use the two terms synonymously or move from play to games and back again without any mention of possible differences. Suits, on the other hand, tries to determine the distinct features of the two but still leaves important metaphysical questions unanswered. After analyzing the work of the three authors, the second section of my paper includes a clarification of the elements that appear to generate the conflation. I will explain that fundamental category confusions make the play-game distinction opaque. This confusion has to do with a failure to distinguish intentional acts from intentional objects. Related to this is a failure to clarify differences between game and play acts, on one hand, and game objects from their play counterparts, on the other. The third section includes an explanation of the basic causes of confusions discussed in the first two sections. I argue that a high degree of compatibility can be mistaken for identity. I also argue that well-constructed games are idealized conventions. Because they are ideal, they are powerful play attractors. This helps to explain the frequent conjunction of play and games and the mistaken assumption that the two are always (or nearly always) found together.
  • play,
  • games,
  • philosophy,
  • conflation,
  • metaphysics
Publication Date
Spring 2011
Citation Information
Chad R Carlson. "The "Playing" Field: Attitudes, Activities, and the Conflation of Play and Games" Journal of the Philosophy of Sport Vol. 38 Iss. 1 (2011)
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