The word play is a big, big problem. The ambiguity of current definitions are holding back serious discourse that can advance the social sciences.
The essential problem is that the word play is both a noun and a verb. This terminology is not precise and leads to all sorts of problems, debates and misunderstandings in figuring out what play is, what is going on during play, and what the relationship between games and play actually is.
This situation is causing epic levels of confusion, debate and wasted energy in the social sciences. All the energy going into debates on what play is and is not could be used to seriously advance the state of the art in the social sciences. Instead we are mired in petty debates because the terminology we are using is completely imprecise.
And that is a big problem.
Play: the Noun
The word play is a noun. A play is a move in a game. And there are SIX other definitions of the noun play. (See related links following this post.). Suffice to say that the word play is a noun. Most of us do agree to the common noun definitions for play. Even so, because play is both a noun and a verb, we have problems using both the verb forms and the noun forms of the word when attempting to precisely describe social phenomena.
Play: The Verb
The word play is also a verb. Play is an activity, a verb, as in “playing a game.” This and FOUR additional verb definitions exist for the word play. (See related links.) Now we can begin to see the problem. The word play is at best a highly ambiguous one.
Here is an example: John Taylor Gatto is a highly accomplished and innovative educator, and book author. He is also a recognized authority on how people learn, and how to facilitate learning.
John Taylor Gatto is a very clear thinker.
Check out this quote from him in his essay on play (see related links):
“[Play is] something we do in between being serious, isn’t it? When machines “play” we get worried and say they’re broken, yet men and women and animals play all the time. What’s going on?
Even the term is ambiguous; what we mean by it isn’t automatically clear.” (emphasis added)
You might be wondering if I am planning to offer you a more precise definition for play. And, you also may also be wondering if I am planning to describe a complete vocabulary for discussing play, and games, in a much more precise and generative way.
The answer to both questions is most definitely YES.
Link: The 7 Noun and 5 Verb Definitions for Play in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
Essay: The Curriculum of Play by John Taylor Gatto A very good example of how excellent writers struggle to write about play.
Wikipedia entry for John Taylor Gatto