Is Competition a Main Characteristic of Play?

After several hours of homework early in the morning today, I was privileged enough to go to the Detroit Lions football game in Detroit with my family. While the Lions were taking care of the Packers on the field, I could not lose the idea “play” that we have discussed so heavily in class. As I looked around and watched the players flying around the field, wearing two unified colors, hitting each other and celebrating another man’s demise, I could only stop and ask myself should competition be considered a main characteristic of play? For this blog post I have chosen to answer this question.

This was the question that sparked my blog post on reading quiz #5
This was the question that sparked my blog post on reading quiz #5

From the beginning, I have always been a supporter of the argument that play cannot be defined. It is too large of an idea to be simply defined with a few sentences. Play is biological and crucial to the development of any young child or animal in our world. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, published a paper with author Angeline Lillard, titled “The Impact of Pretend Play on Children’s Development”. This article goes into depth discussing the importance of play, and on a more specific note: competitive play.

Two dogs competitively playing with a stick

This paper argues that competitive play is a building ground for children at a young age. It teaches them the ability to win and loose, to play within the rules, and to understand and strategize against an opponent or problem (Lillard 2). However, as we learned from Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty during our readings and quizzes on September 15th 2014, competition is not considered a main aspect of play according to Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. In my opinion this is a glaring omission. Competition is ubiquitous in the world we live in. From sports and games to war and violence, competition can be seen as a major quality of our every day lives. Even sitting in Political Science 101 every Tuesday and Thursday provides some level of competition when dissected. Every day in Political Science 101 we compete. Some students do not see class as a competition, but truly it is. Once we graduate from the University of Michigan, we face the harsh reality of an overly competitive job market.

The Olympian 100 Meter Dash runners stride off their starting blocks during the Beijing Olympics

Our grade in Political Science 101  could ultimately determine receiving or not receiving a position in an office or law firm later down the line. If my GPA falls short next to someone else who has graduated from the University of Michigan, I in turn will most likely not receive the job. That is why every day students, who are paying thousands of dollars, come to class every day, to compete and prepare to compete in the outside world. I know what you are probably asking. How does competition in a classroom have anything to do with the definition of play? Well it does. As kids some of us grow up playing basketball, baseball, tennis and golf. Others compete in math pentathlons, debate teams, or forensics team. What you compete in does not matter, but the very act of competing does matter. Whether competing in a video game or sporting event the human brain’s instinct is to win, sometimes at all costs. On the football field we see players dismantling each other to win and this can be ignored. While playing in a game, that the players voluntarily chose to participate in (yes with big contracts) they can be seen tackling each other over a ball of pigskin. Football is a game. Games are played by players with soul interest of beating the opponent. One must consider that competition can be a huge factor in play based on this. In a lot of games we see there is a clear winner and loser such as, sports, video games, school events, although several of these games are imaginary or take place in “The Magic Circle” (Huizinga). After reading this I would be very interested to hear people’s opinions about whether or not competition should be considered a main characteristic of play.