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A game is a (often, but not always recreational) activity involving one or more players. This can be defined by either a goal that the players try to reach, or some set of rules that determines what the players can or can not do. Games are played primarily for entertainment or enjoyment, but may also serve as exercise or in an educational, simulational or psychological role.

Tug of war is an easily organized, impromptu game that requires little equipment.


File:Monopoly Game.jpg
Monopoly is the best selling board game in history. It is available in localized versions in many nations, such as this one in German.

Although many animals play, only humans confirmably have games. Whether some animals are intelligent enough to game is debatable, though a game has ritualistic elements (such as rules and procedures) that are voluntarily acted upon, rather than as a result of instinct. The existence of rules and criteria that decide the outcome of games imply that games require intelligence of a significant degree of sophistication.

Non-human animal species may, however, engage in games whose rules and sophistication may be of such a nature as to be incapable of detection by humans in their present state of knowledge. It would, for example, seem incongruous that large brained species such as many Cetaceans and the larger hominids did not play games. Our inability to observe and understand such games should not be taken as a confirmation that they do not exist. Some courtship displays by some species of bird, such as the Black Grouse, appear to have a component which, from an anthropolgical view, might appeare to be a game in which there are clearly winners and losers.

Games can involve one player acting alone, or two or more players acting cooperatively. Most often involve competition among two or more players. Taking an action that falls outside the rules generally constitutes a foul or cheating.

All through human history, people have played games to entertain themselves and others. There are an enormous variety of games; for specific information about different types of games, see the links at the end of this article.

Philosopher David Kelley, in his popular introductory reasoning text The Art of Reasoning, defines the concept "game" as "a form of recreation constituted by a set of rules that specify an object to be attained and the permissible means of attaining it." This covers most cases well, but does not quite fit with things like war games and sports , which often are not played for entertainment but to build skills for later use.

Games in philosophy

In Philosophical Investigations, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the concept "game" could not be contained by any single definition, but that games must be looked at as a series of definitions that share a "family resemblance" to one another. Games were important to Wittgenstein's later thought; he held that language was itself a game, consisting of tokens governed by mutually agreed upon rules that governed the usage of words.

Stanley Fish, looking for a clear example of the sorts of social constructions, cited the balls and strikes of baseball as example. While the strike zone target is governed by the rules of the game, it epitomizes the category of things that exist only because people have agreed to treat them as real. No pitch is a ball or a strike until it has been labelled as such by an appropriate authority, the plate umpire, whose judgment on this matter cannot be challenged within the current game.

Many technical fields are often applied to the study of games, including probability, statistics, economics, ethnomathematics, and game theory.

Anthropology of games

Games, being a characteristic human activity strongly determined by custom and the frequent subjects of folklore, have been the subject of anthropological investigations.

Classes of games

While many different subdivisions have been proposed, anthropologists classify games under three major headings, and have drawn some conclusions as to the social bases that each sort of game requires. They divide games broadly into:

In addition to these basic classifications, there are mixed games; such as football, partly a game of skill and partly a game of strategy; poker, partly a game of strategy and partly a game of chance; and baseball, which combines elements of all three. Baseball Hall of Famer Casey Stengel underscored this point when he remarked, "I had many years when I was not so successful as a ballplayer, as it is a game of skill."

The game of chess, a game of pure strategy, requires the use of a chess set.

Games of pure skill are likely the oldest sort of game, and are found in all cultures, regardless of their level of material culture. They are associated with cultures that place a high value on individual performance and prowess.

Games of strategy require a higher material basis. They are associated with cultures that possess a written language: not surprising, since most strategy games are based on mathematics and feature the manipulation of symbols. They often require special equipment to be played. They are associated with hierarchical societies that place a high value on obedience.

Games of chance appear at a variety of levels of material culture; what they seem to share generally is a sense of economic insecurity. They are associated with cultures that place a high value on personal responsibility, keeping one's word, and maintaining personal standing in the face of misfortune; in other words, with "cultures of honor".

Games and sex roles

Anthropologists have also noticed relationships between natural sex roles and the sorts of games played by members of the two sexes. Music, including communal chanting and hand clapping, is frequently a component in games played by human females; it seldom plays an important role in the games played by human males. The games played by men and boys often require more physical space and involve more physical contact than those played by women or girls. Games played by males tend to be of a sort that result in a clear winner and a clear loser; games played by girls sometimes lack this feature, and are played for the sake of playing.

Games and sports

There is no clear line of demarcation between games and sports. Generally, sports are athletic in nature, and have an element of physical prowess, but then so do many games. For cultural anthropologists, the distinction between games and sports hinges on community involvement. Sports, as opposed to games, often require special equipment and playing fields or prepared grounds dedicated to their practice, a fact that often makes necessary the involvement of a community beyond the players themselves. Most sports can have spectators. Communities often align themselves with players of sports, who in a sense represent that community; they often align themselves against their opponents, or have traditional rivalries. The concept of fandom began with sports fans. Games amuse the players; sports amuse a broader public; in advanced material cultures, sports can be played by paid professionals. When games like chess and go are played professionally, they take on many of the characteritics of a sport.

One-person games

One-person games or one-player games are sometimes called solitaire games, but this term can be easily confused with the peg game and the card game of same name.

Types of one-player games include:

Types of games

main article: Game classification

See also


  • Avedon, Elliot; Sutton-Smith, Brian, The study of games. (Philadelphia: Wiley, 1971), reprinted Krieger, 1979. ISBN 0898740452

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