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Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture [Kindle Edition]

Johan Huizinga
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In Homo Ludens, the classic evaluation of play that has become a “must-read” for those in game design, Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga defines play as the central activity in flourishing societies. Like civilization, play requires structure and participants willing to create within limits. Starting with Plato, Huizinga traces the contribution of Homo Ludens, or “Man the player” through Medieval Times, the Renaissance, and into our modern civilization. Huizinga defines play against a rich theoretical background, using cross-cultural examples from the humanities, business, and politics. Homo Ludens defines play for generations to come.

"A happier age than ours once made bold to call our species by the name of Homo Sapiens. In the course of time we have come to realize that we are not so reasonable after all as the Eighteenth Century with its worship of reason and naive optimism, though us; "hence moder fashion inclines to designate our species asHomo Faber: Man the Maker. But though faber may not be quite so dubious as sapiens it is, as a name specific of the human being, even less appropriate, seeing that many animals too are makers. There is a third function, howver, applicable to both human and animal life, and just as important as reasoning and making—namely, playing. it seems to me that next to Homo Faber, and perhaps on the same level as Homo Sapiens, Homo Ludens, Man the Player, deserves a place in our nomenclature. "—from the Foreward, by Johan Huizinga

Editorial Reviews


“A must-read for anybody with serious interest in games and play. It is the classic work in the field, still more informative than any of the modern books on the subject.” —Chris Crawford, author of Chris Crawford on Game Design

“A fascinating account of ‘man the player’ and the contribution of play to civilization.” —Harper’s

“A writer with a sharp and powerful intelligence, helped by a gift of expression and exposition which is very rare, Huizinga assembles and interprets one of the most fundamental elements of human culture: the instinct for play. Reading this volume, one suddenly discovers how profoundly the achievements in law, science, poverty, war, philosophy, and in the arts, are nourished by the instinct of play.” —Roger Caillois, editor of Diogenes

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation)

Product Details

  • File Size: 1563 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (June 1, 1971)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001PSEQT2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,263 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
101 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece February 21, 2001
Huizinga's genius is to find the idea of play hiding like a spider in the most unlikely places. The medieval "judicial duel", where justice was done by fighting? Clearly a development of ancient forms of combat - and that combat itself was always highly stylised and ritualised, which show, according to Huizinga, that they themselves were "play" forms. He demonstrates with convincing scholarship that Greek tragic drama and religion were also born from play.
The important thing for the reader to understand is that Huizinga does not think that play is in any way trivial or less than serious. In fact, he argues that play is a wider, more all-embracing concept than seriousness. Because the idea of seriousness excludes play, whereas the idea of play can very well be taken seriously. In the latter portion of his book, he laments the fact that play has been ripped from its organic place at the heart of communities and transferred to commercialized spheres of sport.
Contrary to what another reviewer says here, Huizinga was not writing in the 1950s but in 1938. A time when the old ideals of nobility and chivalry even in war had been exploded. A time when the very idea of play was something worth cherishing, something to attempt to preserve for a more fortunate future.
This is a masterpiece of deeply humanist historical and cultural analysis. If it annoys poststructuralists, well, its the poststructuralists who have the problems.
Steven Poole, author, Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE classic book on play January 31, 2009
I am surprised that this book has garnered mixed reviews. I consider it the most important book about play, and I write that as the author of a number of books on game design.

Why is this book so important? First, it clearly differentiates between play and games; there is a great deal of play-activity that does not constitute game-playing. That differentiation is lost on many people. Second, it explores the concept of play from an astounding number of directions. The strongest analysis is the linguistic analysis, which considers how many different languages address the concept of play. The word "play" is one of the semantically broadest words in the English language. From terms such as 'gun play' to 'play' as a theatrical production to 'play' as the freedom of movement of a mechanical part to 'player' as a device that plays a recording, the notion of play has spread broadly and deeply into many different cultures, and the special emphases that different cultures place on the meaning of play itself reveals much about the concept. What we call a 'bastard' in English is a 'spielkind' in German: a "play-child". The Japanese language has an entire formal sublanguage for addressing certain sensitive topics. "I am sad to learn that your father is playing at being dead" would be a literal translation of this kind of language. What does that say about the concept of play in the human mind?

Huizinga offers many other brilliant insights into the nature of play in the human species. His observations on the idea of demarcating territory in which certain rules of play apply -- a royal court, a court of law, or a basketball court -- are eye-opening. We humans have a subjunctive sense that we explore with variations on play.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential September 7, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm sure the translation is as poor as everyone says, but for God's sake, this is one of only three or four absolutely essential twentieth-century books on the history of games and gaming. It's insightful and humorous even in English, so just imagine how good it is in Dutch. Along with Murray, Bell, Conway, et al, this is a necessary assignment for anyone who wants to talk about the subject. Five stars. Five! Five! Five!
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110 of 132 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible translation! December 26, 2002
Please be aware that this book really is a horrible translation of Huizinga's original and insightful attempts to make sense of 'play'.
Huizinga's contribution of the new word 'ludiek', introduced through his translations in almost every language but English, is simply left out of the introduction and does not occur in the book. This means that the logic Huizinga has set up, pointing out how cultural practices are characterized by 'ludieke' features (i.e. features of their game-like quality) gets reduced to a book on 'game elements'. The entire logic of play creating culture therefore never comes across, but stays obscured behind game elements in culture.
This translation should really be immediately taken from the market or redone by someone who actually tries his best to translate with integrity. An indication of the complete lack thereof is the note of the editor that he changed the subtitle from 'play element of culture' (which Huizinga in his introduction clarifies he fought for on several occassions to be maintained) into 'play element in culture', because "English prepositions are not governed by logic". The English-centricity complete overrules at least 90% of what Huizinga actually expresses.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The search for the essence of our humanity has led thinkers to time and again single out one aspect of our complex nature. We are 'the talking creature' and we are the 'rational being' and we are 'the fabricator' and maker of worlds. We are the creature 'made in the image of God" and the only one capable of

'imitato dei'. And we are also 'homo ludens' the creature for whom play is at the essence of our being .

Huizinga may be too much of a generalist for many today, but he has a great perception and he elaborates and investigates it in an insightful way.

" If we cannot play we cannot begin to be fully human"
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
ugh for a class
Published 1 month ago by Angela
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
The translation could be alot better, but the idea is there. The "Play" is all around us, and is part of our culture (no mater where we live). Read more
Published 1 month ago by James Della Valle
4.0 out of 5 stars ... was a Christmas give for my son and he liked it a lot
It was a Christmas give for my son and he liked it a lot.
Published 4 months ago by Sera C. Dennis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 6 months ago by Kris Amiralis
5.0 out of 5 stars The man's amazing.
You can always count on Huizinga for a first rate read. The man's amazing.
Published 9 months ago by Jim Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars A Playful Guide For Those Seeking The Craft of Ritual
In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga makes the case that the ability and appetite for play is a defining characteristic of humanity. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Jonathan Cook
5.0 out of 5 stars For all who suspect there's more to play than GTA5
I'm not competent to critique or even interact much with Homo Ludens academically. I read it because I'm interested in games, and people in the know cite Huizinga's book as the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Allen Baird
3.0 out of 5 stars Just Not What I Wanted
I was looking for examples of spontaneous play as opposed to games, as I consider them two different things. I've seen it in the animal kingdom. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Edna St. Vincent Millay
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not very well-written
The first chapter of this book is decent -- a slightly philosophical view of the importance of play. The rest is scholarly and now outdated ethnography. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Avery Morrow
5.0 out of 5 stars Play isn't just for fun
I don't know how anyone can read this book and think it is a terrible translation. This book was poetic and playful itself as it delved into the subject. Read more
Published on January 7, 2012 by Laurence Chalem
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