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Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture
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Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,552 ratings  ·  102 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 220 pages
Published June 1st 1971 by Beacon Press (first published 1938)
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it took me a long time, but it's not an easy study and most of the references it made seemed to bounce off my head like some blank wall... i so need to study more of everything...


first and foremost, this can't be a review with a plot resume or a linear story line. it's an essay, a study, a scientific paper (a long one, for sure) and it brings along a baggage of information that you can hardly incorporate.

i have only been seriously reading scientific, non-fiction works for about
Oct 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
What is play? Well, now you know - it's a lot of things.

It's a really exciting text, partly because play is fun to think about, and partly because the writer's passion for the topic grabs hold off your imagination. It's not just play, it's play-culture, it's the play-factor. I've written a few blog posts about it because I feel like the ideas deserve it. Very forward thinking for a turn of the 20th century writer.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a great read. I must say it helps a lot if you have at least basic knowledge of cultural history - history of philosophy (mainly Ancient Greek), religion, history of anthropology (Boas, Malinowski, Maus), literature -, and history in general, also knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as German and actually any other language you might know. It's easier and more engaging to read if you have some interest in philology, as the approach is highly philological. Having said that, I do ...more
An Idler
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Johan Huizinga intrigues me and often says things that stick in my head, but he and I ultimately fail to really connect in a transfer of ideas. I'm willing to take most of the blame. Maybe some of his argument is being lost in translation, or perhaps a difference in presuppositions means the occasional leap in his logic is too far for me to follow. Still, I'm glad I read another of his books. But this leaves me feeling much the same way as I did at the end of The Waning of the Middle Ages.

John Gustafson
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'd never heard of this book (written in 1938) until recently, when I started running across references to it in a lot of disparate places. It's fascinating, and I wonder if play-theory is going to make a comeback as a major school of literary and social criticism. "Play," after all, is one of the few values that has remained intact across both New Criticism and postmodernism (although I've always found that postmodernism plays lip service to play, favoring narrow identity politics). Huizinga's ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
"[In Ethiopia] even under Italian rule, litigation still continued to be a passion and a sport that delighted the natives. According to an English newspaper, a judge received a visit from a man who had lost his case on the previous day, but now said contentedly: 'I had a very bad lawyer, you know, all the same I'm glad to have had a good run for my money!'"
Emilio Garofalo
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The seminal work in this field of study
This first study of play & culture (1938) gives great basic understanding of what works in gamification and any environment that involves play.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book, but it was really just only okay. Huizinga lays out the characteristics of play, then its civilizing elements through ritual and the agonist drive, then spends a whole lot of time on whether certain things are play or not. The linguistics section is probably the best, the rest is often redundant and felt like more of an outdated anthropology lesson (literally, many of the examples used were taught in an anthropology 101 course I took at a community college) or an ...more
Jonny Thomson
May 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I need to caveat this review by saying I enjoyed the reading experience much more than I did the book's content/thesis, and so the 3* is probably the average of the two.

By reading experience, I mean that it was brilliant to dive again into a book that presents a philosophical and anthropological argument, and to engage with it intellectually; I enjoyed reading, challenging, questioning, noting, and contemplating. It's the first book in a while I've made notes on, and where I sat after each
Nick Carraway LLC
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
1) ''Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.''

2) ''As a culture proceeds, either progressing or regressing, the original relationship we have postulated between play and non-play does not remain static. As a rule the play-element gradually recedes into the background, being absorbed for the most part in the sacred sphere. The remainder crystallizes as knowledge:
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
As college students, how many of us ever made it through the entire "recommended reading" list for a class? And for a class with 17 recommended titles and "Homo Ludens" being the most difficult to acquire (the vast University of Minnesota library system doesn't have a copy), even the most thorough of us could be forgiven for leaving it by the wayside.

But four years after taking the Toy Product Design class that cited Homo Ludens, I find myself helping to teach it, and I figured I ought to have a
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Journalist Tom Chatfield of Prospect has chosen to discuss Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens , on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Computer Games, saying that:

It’s a book about the way that play precedes culture, and is a distinct and very complicated human phenomenon, which the author sees as giving rise to much that we think of as civilisation, as encoding a set of human values, ideas and ways of being in the world.”

The full interview is available here:
Sep 19, 2018 rated it liked it
While the central definition of play and the ideas spun from this were revelatory, each idea had to be excavated from text that didn't offer a recognizable through-line and was therefore a less than pleasant read.
Bya Bya
Oct 17, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The worst book I have ever read. I had to read it for school and I didn't like it at all, I couldn't even finish it.
Arturo Herrero
Oct 27, 2017 rated it liked it
The main premise of Homo Ludens is that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture.

The fact that play and culture are actually interwoven with one another was neither observed nor expressed, whereas for us the whole point is to show that genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilisation.

Institutions such as religion, law, government, and the armed forces originally started as play-forms, or games, and only gradually did they
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing, readable book. I can easily see why it was a pathbreaking book when it was published over 60 years ago, and definitely more interesting than most metahistories. I think the key insight that the nature of play as something that was apart from other functions became the model for much of the key features of civilization is well taken, and it is intriguing to see him work with so much different material, including cultures beyond Europe to make his point. Almost 70 years on the point ...more
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author researches the role ofthe play in the culture's formation. He made a good job of finding the influence of the game in every aspect of life. Nothing of what he said seems farfetched but, at some point, it began tolook like cheery-picking. Nevertheless, this is not a major problem for the book, this is Huizinga’s biases in what we should treatas a good element of play and what as a bad. He openly and sincerely shows his biaseswithouteven tryingto hide them. To my surprise, this did not ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The concept if this book is of follows: what is play and how can we identify the play-element in our culture?

One thing to note that this text is very difficult to skim through. I will have to read it again to truly understand the writer's intentions and goals.

I give it 5 stars because it definitely proposes interesting points and confronts our conception of seriousness. Do we understand what seriousness means? By constantly trying to be serious are we killing freedom? Why are we so obsessed with
Giorgia G.
Jul 17, 2019 rated it liked it

I see where the accuses, to this book, of discussing the theme in a superficial manner are coming from. But I believe the author was coherent with the declared intentent. I appreciated it, it offered quite a few arguments to reflect upon, however the lack of clear and in depth researched points is a bummer.
Alex Delogu
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great tour through civilization with a focus on the play-element. Lots of etymology from many languages. The genesis of certain structures as grounded in play is also fascinating, eg. the legal system, and courts (like a tennis court, a play area).
Nicklas Karlsson
This is quite dense and old-school positivist way of writing. But the point comes across very well.
Jake Hollman
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a very difficult read, and I probably should read it again. I gained insight from it, but it took a lot of work.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
so long but okay and profound
Kevin Pajak
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A unique and refreshing look at humans. Well worth the read.
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am deeply interested in the concept of “play.” I think it is important as a practical matter for children and adults to engage in play; and I think it is key for understanding different aspects our lives. It also connects in obvious and important ways to one of my main research focuses: the philosophy of sport. Ever since getting interested in the philosophy of sport, I’ve wanted to read Johan Huizinga’s classic Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture.

It is a fascinating book;
Jan 05, 2014 rated it liked it
In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga makes a strong argument for “play” being a foundational element of culture. Denying the idea of “play” as only serving a biological purpose, the author posits that “play” is a phenomenon worth studying in and of itself and further claims it as the core ingredient in the development of civilization. The concept of “play” is timeless and undeniable, and Huizinga uses this to suggest that “play” should be seen as a definitional characteristic of human beings, thus ...more
Mar 07, 2017 added it
Great read, if a little redundant at times. I will be rereading this and referencing it in classes in the future.
Jonathan Cook
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: game designers, marketers, anthropologists
In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga makes the case that the ability and appetite for play is a defining characteristic of humanity. Huizinga describes play as an essential pillar of civilization, present in our art, our law, and even in our war. He writes about the idea of play playfully, looking for common themes in the many meanings embedded in the concept of play, rather than restricting himself to a single definition. The fluidity of play, as Huizinga sees it, allows it to course through theater, ...more
Apr 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joel by: Richard Sennett
In this foundational text Huizinga posits and illustrates the play aspect of culture from children's games, to athletic tournaments, to politics and society, to sacred worship and ritual. Drawing from a variety of cultures and time periods, the case is made that society and games can be viewed as a "chicken and egg" koan. All culture is suffused with play, and all play is of a kind with culture. As games are cultural artifacts fallen into "disuse," so is culture ludological artifacts coalesced ...more
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Johan Huizinga was a Dutch historian and one of the founders of modern cultural history.
“If a serious statement is defined as one that may be made in terms of waking life, poetry will never rise to the level of seriousness. It lies beyond seriousness, on that more primitive and original level where the child, the animal, the savage, and the seer belong, in the region of dream, enchantment, ecstasy, laughter. To understand poetry we must be capable of donning the child's soul like a magic cloak and of forsaking man's wisdom for the child's.” 17 likes
“All play means something.” 14 likes
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