The author begins with a statement of the meaning of play offered by Huizinga, a definition that Caillois says is both too broad and too narrow; that definition states that play is "a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life" (4) and, while being seen as "not serious," also absorbs the interest of the player. It is also said to promote "the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means" (4). The author offers an analysis of this definition and of the concept of play itself to show what characteristics play possesses and why it is not as broad or as narrow as elements in the earlier definition.
Play is a choice, first, something one does because one wishes to do it. It is seen as something separate from real life. It replaces the "confused and intricate laws of ordinary life" with "precise, arbitrary, unexceptionable rules that must be accepted as such and that govern the correct playing of the game" (7). The author defines play as free, meaning it is not obligatory; separate, meaning defined and fixed in space and time in advance; uncertain, meaning the course cannot be determined; unproductive, meaning it creates no goods, no wealth, and no new elements of any kind; governed by rules; and make-believe.
The next subject is how to classify games, which come in an infinite variety. The author proposes a division into four main rubrics in terms of whether the games are dominated by competition, chance, simulation, or vertigo. There are games standing outside this set of classes, but this serves to guide the discussion here. Given the different categories involved, there are also different rules for play. The author states, "Rules are inseparable from play as soon as the latter becomes institutionalized" (27).
The author discusses the social function of games, for play is not merely ...