What is the state of play? The Grasshopper's game replayed

Russell, Wendy K (2014) What is the state of play? The Grasshopper's game replayed. International Journal of Play, 3 (2). pp. 97-102. ISSN 2159-4937

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Abstract

In Aesop’s fable, the industrious ant works hard to stockpile food for the forthcoming winter whereas the improvident grasshopper spends all summer singing and so dies for lack of food when winter comes. Philosopher Bernard Suits appears to turn this cautionary tale on its head in his seminal work ‘The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia’ (originally published in 1978 and reissued in 2005). His Grasshopper playfully engages disciples Skepticus and Prudence in a Socratic dialogue to address a number of riddles. One of these takes up most of the inner section of the book and is a riposte to Wittgenstein’s (1958) assertion that the concept of games cannot be defined. But that’s not all the book is about. Not only does it propose and defend a definition of games that can meet analytical philosophy’s requirement of necessary and sufficient conditions, it also considers the value of playing games – indeed, it seems to suggest that game-playing is the ultimate human good, the only thing that makes life worth living. Yet this presents a paradox. If, in Utopia, there is no need to work because everything is provided, then all that remains is playing games. However, this eventually becomes unsatisfactory so people begin to do unnecessary things that previously had instrumental value but are now carried out for their own sake (like building houses or solving scientific problems). This is the final riddle, according to Kolers (2014): perhaps it is not that the good life consists in playing games, but that it is the life that is itself a game. These riddles and paradoxes turn on the question of value. In this piece, and with deep and sincere apologies to Suits, I appropriate his play frame and rearrange it in a way to suit the issue at hand: the state of play. Here, the interlocutors are descendants of the originals: KATYDID (a particularly noisy bush cricket) and two disciples: PRAGMATICUS (a play campaigner and practical realist) and LUTROTES (a leading light in the Save Children’s Play campaign). Glossing over the issue of defining play (for reasons that emerge), it explores the contradictions inherent in discussing play’s value and ends with a riddle that readers may or may not wish to attempt to solve.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Liberal and Performance Arts > Performance Arts and Play
Research Priority Areas: Being Human - Past, Present & Future
Depositing User: Wendy Russell
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2016 11:23
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2017 18:57
URI: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/2971

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