Some references about some concepts: play, game and toy

The first semester is almost finished and within two weeks’ time my students will deliver their production (and, as I did last year, I’ll post here the best). Anyway, now I’m restructuring some points in the theoretical part of the course “Architectural toys - Processos complementares de reprodução disciplinar em Arquitectura” and I’m trying to organize better some fundamental concepts such as the ideas of play, game and toy, which are three words used several times as synonymous, but as a matter of fact, they are not at all.
I will not explain minutely now and here what I am studying because it would be quite boring; but I want to share with you some sources I’m reading and that are really helping me a lot.

The first one is a book about game written by Johan Huizinga (1872 –1945), a dutch historian that traditionally wrote about Middle Age. His “Homo Ludens” (1938) is a true classic book and can be considered as the first modern structured contribution about play. For Huizinga play is a totally natural and free activity, disconnected from real world, spatial and chronological limited with clear and shared rules. Most important, for the author and for us, is that play has a proper order (that must be clear for all the players) and it is a simplification of ordinary life.

The second book is a very good essay written by the french sociologist Roger Caillois (1913 – 1978) called “Man, Play, and Games” (1967). In this book Caillois starts in Huizinga’s book and goes beyond, deeply and further describing and organizing play activity. Caillois argues that exist four play forms and two types of play: The Agon, or competition where exists an agonistic effort; the Alea, or chance where the result is totally aleatory; the Mimicry, as a role play or mimetic behavior and the Ilinx where the play look for a sense of altering perception. Each form has several expressions depending on the level of Ludus or Paidia. Ludus is the looking for free trouble and difficult and Paidia is the freedom without rules.

The third book is about toys. “Toys as culture” (1986) is also a really good book written by the new zealander theorist Brian Sutton-Smith (1924). The author defines the relationship that exists between toys and family, technology, education and market in a very clear and well-articulated way. Beyond that Sutton-Smith stresses the deep connection that exists between toy design and consumption and the social and cultural framework.
Last but not least, the fourth book is “The Ambiguity of Play” (1997), also written by Brian Sutton-Smith. The author writes about seven “play rhetorics” depending on sociocultural context. “Each is called a rhetoric because its ideological values are something that holders like to persuade others to believe in and to live by. Much of the time such values do not even reach a level of conscious awareness. People simply take it for granted”.

Enjoy your reading.


  1. By the way, very interesting suggestions too. Thanks for the sharing.

  2. I suspected my first comment hadn't gone through... Prior to that one I had said something like:

    Hello, have you come across Jane McGonigal's "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World" book? It is considered a cornerstone in contemporary gamification theories.

    Now the "by the way" makes more sense probably...

  3. Thank you Nuno,
    it looks like a good reference (I only saw the Amazon's reviews that is, in this case, particularly detailed).
    I will investigate further.