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Homo Ludens Ils 86 (International Library of Sociology) Hardcover – 29 Jan 1998

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (29 Jan. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415175941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415175944
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,077,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Allen Baird on 13 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 granddaddy of all games texts. Actually, he has little to say about games in the strict sense; his focus on play studies rather than technology (game design) or strategic decision-making (game theory).

What I can say is that it is a beautiful book, even in translation. It is rich in ideas, personal in tone, broad in scope, impressive in scholarship and radical in claims. Huizinga's central thesis is that the play-element 'of' (not 'in' as the badly translated subtitle suggests) culture is posterior to and generative of culture itself. Culture in its many aspects - law, war, science, poetry, religion, philosophy, art - bears the characteristics of play. Culture does not grow out from play, as an adult from the child; rather, culture advances "in and as play, and never leaves it" (173).

All I wish to do in this review is throw together some of Huizinga's main themes according as to how they struck me. Some of them seem contrary to the more contemporary game thinking I've encountered. Others serve as a basis for what modern games designers take for granted. Yet others have little relation to anything else in gaming literature anywhere. Let's see how these play out.

The Agon-y of Play
Recent literature likes to portray a vision of games as positive-sum, win-win, 'infinite' endeavours in which everyone moves on together (e.g. James P Carse). For Huizinga, the essence of play lies in the ancient Greek word "agon", meaning contest, struggle or competition (30-1, 48).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ms. J. Kitchen on 30 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
Huizinga's book remains one of the key texts on the centrality of play and playing in Western culture.
His rejection of a purely developmental or psychological understanding of play (which was becoming popular at this time through the works of cognitive psychologists and evolutionary biologists), and boldly concieved structure which weaves together a case for 'play as culture' drawing on history, the arts and myths is a fabulous read.
But Huizinga is very much a man of his time, and to get the most of this book, you'll have to look beyond some frequently reaccuring anacronistic clangers - the worst for me being conflating the ideas of animal play, child play and the play of 'primitives' as a somehow 'lower' or proto- form of play. There is very much a hierarchy of play suggested in this book, and the leisured classes writing poetry, wearing sky-high wigs* and constucting playful lives of wit, beauty and luxury sit very much at the top of that hierarchy.

The rather imperial elitism implied in much of Huizing's argument might be hard to look past, even when you take into account here was a (you get the impression) rather gentle-souled European academic writing at the dawn of Nazism and WW2, perhaps whistful for a more beautious age. Nonetheless this is a fascinating book, and an essencial read for anyone interested in how play shaped and continues to shape our culture.

*I'm serious about the wigs - see his 3 page rant mourning the demise of the 18th century French periwig, which he paints as the ultimate physical expression of the play culture.
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By mboaj on 6 Mar. 2013
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This is a true classic. I read several books on game design and then came back to this classic. This is a must read in this area.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 18 reviews
101 of 101 people found the following review helpful
A masterpiece 21 Feb. 2001
By Jasper Milvain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
THE classic book on play 31 Jan. 2009
By Chris Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.

Also impressive is the range of angles he uses to zero in on the concept of play. He considers play in art, poetry, law, war, language, and play as a civilizing process. Play has become a substitute for direct violent conflict. We civilized humans deflect our bloodlust into athletic games. Imagine the emotional intensity of spectators applied to political conflict; we're tear ourselves to pieces!

Play is also immensely valuable as an educational process. The fact that all carnivorous mammals engage in play communicates the value of play in the upbringing of the young.

It's true that some of the material delves into topics now considered somewhat musty. I confess that sometimes I was happy to have put a chapter behind me. But the book is short and the tedious sections are quickly passed by.

I consider this book 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 -- including my own!
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Essential 8 Sept. 2004
By Brian D'Amato - Published on Amazon.com
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!
110 of 132 people found the following review helpful
Horrible translation! 26 Dec. 2002
By Cees Jan Mol - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"No one is more serious than children at their games" Montaigne 23 April 2006
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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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