As far as words go, “play” and “game” seem pretty similar, right? Almost interchangeable? I mean, they’re nowhere near as different as, say, “giraffe” and “asparagus”. Now those are two words with very different definitions.
However, all giraffes aside, are “play” and “game” really as similar as they seem? Let’s try changing it up a bit. What about comparing “playing” versus “gaming”? “Player” versus “gamer”? Maybe you can’t pinpoint exactly why, but saying “I’ve been playing all day” doesn’t quite sound the same as “I’ve been gaming all day”. However close the words may seem, the connotations have their differences.
The word “play”, for instance, implies fun and entertainment. The word itself seems lighthearted and joyous, the very opposite of serious work requiring focus and effort. Play should be silly and fun- it’s riding your bike with friends, running around the jungle gym, or rolling the dice on your favorite board game. You play because you want to have fun, and that’s that.
How, then, does gaming differ? One can certainly “play a game”, which implies using any game, electronic or otherwise, for a source of pleasure and entertainment. However, actual “gaming” is not quite the same. As any gamer knows, games are not always purely fun. While they can certainly be used for amusement alone, when one begins “gaming”, he or she becomes immersed not just in the entertainment, but in the challenge. And the challenge…well, it’s not always fun.
You see, “to game” is to transcend the realm of play, to desire more than simple entertainment. In a way, one could compare games to books (relax, anti-gamers, I said compare, not equate). A book can certainly be a form of entertainment, yet no one says “I’m going to go play with my book.” Why? Because books, while often entertaining, provide much more than just a smile and or a laugh. Likewise, gaming provides more than that- it proves engagement, encourages immersion in another world, and spurs on ambition for success.
Think of it this way. In an MMO, if you’re merely completing the fun quests because they make you happy, then you’re playing. If you’ve been trying to defeat that one boss for an hour and you’re so frustrated and angry that you want to throw your laptop off a bridge, now you’re gaming. A gamer’s goal is not mere entertainment. A gamer desires challenge, immersion. A gamer strives for success, whether the path towards it is amusing or, at times, utterly frustrating.
So the next time you’re about to use “play” and “game” in a sentence, stop for a moment and think. Which are you, really? Are you a player?
Or are you a gamer?