It creates no wealth or goods

I was reading, of all things, an essay on the political philosophy of the Facebook game Farmville, and was struck a line from the famous French theorist of play. Roger Callois goes on to argue for the importance of play (as a means of joy and escape) after first establishing its impracticality. The play–work–art distinction (and overlap) is interesting to ponder. When I play my guitar am I practicing (work), creating (art), or simply amusing myself (play). A little of all three, and you can’t always tell which is which.

A characteristic of play, in fact, is that it creates no wealth or goods, thus differing from work or art. At the end of the game, all can and must start over again at the same point. Nothing has been harvested or manufactured, no masterpiece has been created, no capital has accrued. Play is an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money … As for the professionals—the boxers, cyclists, jockeys, or actors who earn their living in the ring, track, or hippodrome or on the stage, and who must think in terms of prize, salary, or title—it is clear that they are not players but workers. When they play it is at some other game.


from Man, play, and games, by Roger Caillois, 1958, translated by Meyer Barash

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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