Huizinga and play

Johann Huizinga’s “Homo Ludens” is one the classics in the study of play. I’ve been trying to read it but I also have a lot of essays to return during spring so my reading has been dragging itself slowly toward summer.

I like the way Huizinga defines play. I’m reading it in Finnish, as I was lucky enough to find the book in my native language - it makes reading a bit more enjoyable and faster, but it also means I have to get my hands on at least the English version for comparison. Finnish is a tricky language for writing about play. Luckily, I found the definition in English also, so I don’t have trust my own translation for commenting on it.

“Play is a voluntary activity or occupation executed within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy, and the consciousness that it is different from ordinary life.”

The juxtaposition between the free and binding, tension and freedom in his definition is terribly apropos to the nature of play. Compared to the hints Gadamer uses in explaining the nature of play I’m more used to, this is refreshingly explicit.

Huizinga divides play into three elements he draws partly from linguistic analysis of different languages and ends up with play with more or less of contest (agonistic), fanciful (ludic) and/or pastime (diagogic) elements. He uses it mainly to analyze the meaning of play in different cultures but I think it can be useful for other purposes also. I don’t find all his claims credible or plausible (like his ideas on evolution of language), but at least I found much that I think I can use.

Also, I almost forgot to thank jiituomas of his feedback and suggestions. Thanks. I probably will choose a topic along the lines you suggested.