Johan Huizinga -- Homo Ludens
January 7, 2022 2:19 AM   Subscribe

Homo Ludens is a book originally published in Dutch in 1938 by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society.

Huizinga identifies 5 characteristics that play must have:


 1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
 2. Play is not "ordinary" or "real" life.
 3. Play is distinct from "ordinary" life both as to locality and duration.
 4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
 5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.


From Wikiwand -- Homo Ludens Two quotes to begin:

The judge's wig, however, is more than a mere relic of antiquated professional dress. Functionally it has close connections with the dancing masks of savages. It transforms the wearer into another "being". And it is by no means the only very ancient feature which the strong sense of tradition so peculiar to the British has preserved in law. The sporting element and the humour so much in evidence in British legal practice is one of the basic features of law in archaic society...

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. We can safely assert, even, that human civilization has added no essential feature to the general idea of play. Animals play just like men. We have only to watch young dogs to see that all the essentials of human play are present in their merry gambols. They invite one another to play by a certain ceremoniousness of attitude and gesture. They keep to the rule that you shall not bite, or not bite hard, your brother’s ear. They pretend to get terribly angry. And- what is most important- in all these doings they plainly experience tremendous fun and enjoyment. Such rompings of young dogs are only one of the simpler forms of animal play. There are other, much more highly developed forms: regular contests and beautiful performances before an admiring public..

See also

Are we Homo Ludens? Huizinga’s 5-point definition of play.

Play May Be a Deeper Part of Human Nature Than We Thought

For Huizinga, even war begins as play -- albeit always potentially lethal -- in the universal small group wars of tribe upon tribe where opponents recognize each other as persons, human beings, dress for the occasion through warpaint to epaulettes, hats, helmets, suits of armor, marching in formation and sets of mutually agreed rules between combatants. You don't believe me? Well, ask any five year old boy... But it ends in the totally serious barbarity of modern mass slaughter with all the play elements drained out save for the funny hats, silly clothes, funny walks and good for absolutely nothing.

And for the post-literate -- I keed! I keed! -- here are...

Translating the Arts -- Johan Huizinga -- Homo Ludens

Homo Ludens: Sinema Kamala Kauffman: at TedxRheinmain

Homo Ludens -- Four Theories of Play

Homo Ludens -- About the Design of Video Games and the Meaning of Play

OK, Let us dance now !

Hey, what can I say? Just playin'..
posted by y2karl (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I heard about this book last year during a podcast listening phase when I listened to the very interesting - no seriously just give it a try - show Game Studies Study Buddies. They discuss it in episode 13.

(Thank you for the dog dance link. Dogs are good.)
posted by Mizu at 2:49 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


"I may be big & slow, but I am also adorable and willing to learn"

Hey, thank you so much, Mizu, for the podcast links!
posted by y2karl at 3:57 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


For a wider evolutionary context: Animal Play Behaviour [1981] by Bob Fagen [review].
posted by BobTheScientist at 4:04 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]




I suppose it's a hard book to encapsulate an entire book in a review but that first link comes across as a word salad and had me throwing up my arms like Kermit the frog. There are plenty of instances in war where torture and other depravity could only be understood as twisted sorts of “play”. The art-is-not-play angle doesn’t work for me either - I need to “play” through scenarios in my head in order to develop them as film ideas. It's using exactly the same imagination play muscles I developed as a kid. It seems like every single point made will immediately raise a contradiction.
posted by brachiopod at 5:00 AM on January 7


The art-is-not-play angle doesn’t work for me either - I need to “play” through scenarios in my head in order to develop them as film ideas. It's using exactly the same imagination play muscles I developed as a kid. It seems like every single point made will immediately raise a contradiction.

With this type of text, it can be useful to consider it not a description of what play generally is but rather a description of the kind of play he wants to talk about.
posted by juv3nal at 5:17 AM on January 7


death stranding
posted by ACair at 5:23 AM on January 7


Really interesting. I suspect I disagree with Huizinga about many things, but I really should read the book first. Thanks!

The distinction between play and sport - whatever you choose to call them - does seem quite important to me. I'd naively argue that painting graffiti on a train car or dancing in public square is play, but a chess competition or a North American indigenous ball game is entirely different from what I mean by the word play. (But then, I'm still angry at the world after having learned that fantasy football is actually about gambling. It sounded so unexpectedly playful when described.)
posted by eotvos at 9:31 AM on January 7


Animals at Play
posted by y2karl at 10:34 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]




The raven and the crow like to play in the snow

C'mon, you guys! Don't make me do the kinda sorta heavy lifting here... Don't you know a play bow when you see one?
posted by y2karl at 11:08 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I keep pointing this out to students when I introduce gaming, but have never taught it.
Think it'll work well for undergrads or grad students?
posted by doctornemo at 12:41 PM on January 7


Weird. I just came across a citation of this book in one of my assigned texts and thought "wait I know this from somewhere":
It can be said that in a sense the liturgy functions as play. In play human beings look beyond the immediate, utilitarian purposes of their actions and pass to a level at which actions that in everyday life are simply means acquire a coherence of their own and yield a meaning that delights not only their authors but those who identify with the game as they watch and listen.
posted by jquinby at 2:06 PM on January 7


Think it'll work well for undergrads or grad students?

Well, I certainly am no expert but my best guess is that unless they are complete and total saps, well... hell yes!
posted by y2karl at 2:16 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]




I'd naively argue that painting graffiti on a train car or dancing in public square is play, but a chess competition or a North American indigenous ball game is entirely different from what I mean by the word play.

Well, let's see

....is free, is in fact freedom -- check! ...is not "ordinary" or "real" life -- check! ....is distinct from "ordinary" life both as to locality and duration! ...creates order, is order, play demanding order absolute and supreme -- well, you get the hair, I'll get the microlaser but -- check! ...is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it -- oh c'mon! A game is a game, no matter how obscenely huge the salary paid to the professional or 'amateur, so -- check!

And chess is definitely a game. Which is play. I mean, who says 'Let's work a game of chess,' hmm? Shah mat!
posted by y2karl at 2:40 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


a book originally published in Dutch in 1938 by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga.

And then WW2 broke out in 1939, and Holland was invaded and occupied by the Nazis in 1940 despite its professed neutrality.

I'm trying to imagine how Huizinga might have felt when those things happened, but I don’t think I’m up to it, even with the aid of our recent experience of 4 years of Trump.
posted by jamjam at 3:19 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Interesting. yeah, like a chronological enjambment.
posted by clavdivs at 3:50 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Yes, he died as a prisoner of the Nazis. His was not a happy end but who could have had a more honorable one? He is deeply revered in Holland.
posted by y2karl at 4:05 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


So, Mizu, just so you know, I wrote to
Emilya
Naymark , my polyglot polymath friend* and famous Russian mystery writer -- at least to me -- and asked her about the song that Marina Novosoleva and Fluffyuf were dog dancing to.

She said "It's kind of a nonsense song about a person riding a horse and holding the reins but there are a lot of problems on the road -- there's rocks and woods. The horse is drawing a cart and he's like a backseat driver, telling the driver to turn quickly, go that way and slow down because he's tired. It's funny because there's curse words in the song. I can't imagine a song like this used in an English speaking competition!"

*Emilya is my oldest and bestest online friend -- she was a fan of my old internet radio show drylongso way back in 2000-2001 when it was on and even re-designed the station website back then. She is the total awesome as far as I am concerned and I hope to meet her and her family some day. In the meantime, I am more than happy to promote her work. *hypnotic voice* Buy her books... Buy her books...
posted by y2karl at 8:23 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


On a sidenote, this is an example of what my YouTube is flooded with since going from her FB page to mine and here yesterday. Ай карамба!

What that says about Google's algorithms, I know not.
posted by y2karl at 12:20 PM on January 9


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