1-2 | The Nature of Play


The Nature of Play
An Overview

Thomas Henricks


This essay describes a range of perspectives and concerns that inform scholarly understandings of play. Along the way, the author explores issues and controversies within a series of five questions: What kind of "thing" is play? Is play morally good? Is play functional? Is play rational? Is play more "free" than other human activities? After describing the diversity of opinion about the subject and noting that play scholars typically reach some sort of working definition for play, the author pays particular attention to the work of Brian Sutton-Smith. The author then offers his own conclusions concerning the nature of play. Following Johan Huizinga, he understands play as either a pattern of individual action or a pattern of interaction, the first distinguished by its qualities of transformation and consummation, the second by contests and unpredictable outcomes. However, any definition of play, he cautions, should celebrate the diversity outlined here.