chapter  3
10 Pages

Playing with words: further comment on Suits’ definition


In 1977, as a development from his previous consideration of ‘game-playing’, Bernard Suits constructed a definition of ‘play’. In direct response to (the later) Wittgenstein, Suits was of the view that it was possible to define these terms and he attempted to demonstrate this in practice; most notably through his seminal work, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia (1978). Despite receiving criticism from several positions about his definitions of both ‘game’ and ‘play’, Suits defended their precision and continued to offer ripostes against such attacks until his death in 2007. The purpose of this chapter is to consider Suits’ definition of ‘play’ in the light of subsequent criticisms (Bäck 2008; Morgan 2008; Royce, 2011; Schmid 2011) and will conclude by offering a defence of Suits and his conception of play from one of the most unlikely places: from (the early) Wittgenstein, the author whose ideas he was inspired to challenge. In The Grasshopper, Suits wished to respond to Wittgenstein’s claim that the term ‘game’ cannot be defined, for in Philosophical Investigations (2001b) Wittgenstein maintained that a word must be understood in accordance with its use in language rather than defined with reference to necessary and sufficient conditions. Wittgenstein concluded that in attempting to define ‘games’, all that can be found are a series of family resemblances, not a set of necessary and sufficient conditions:

Don’t say: ‘There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ 1 – but look and see whether there is anything common to all. – For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that.