To put this in perspective, consider the difference between sitting down with a book about the economics of property acquisition and its management under capitalism versus sitting down to a game of Monopoly. With the former, it is understood that you are about to indulge the ideas and beliefs expressed by the author, which you are free to adopt or not. With the latter, on the other hand, it is understood that you are about to indulge the idle desire for mindless leisure. In both instances, you are being educated, but one would not readily consider playing Monopoly an intellectual exercise. It's just a game.
Yet it is this very attitude towards game play that demands further scrutiny. Contrary to the marginalization of play, the act and activities of play claim an important role in the manifestation and development of a culture. Consider these words from Marshall McLuhan, who writes:
Games are situations contrived to permit simultaneous participation of many people in some significant pattern of their own corporate lives. (Understanding Media 245)
Games are purposed. Games are structured; play is not. In Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois makes the distinction that children play and adults game. Play is open; games are closed. For children, unfettered amusement is its own end; for adults, rigid contest is its own amusement. Whereas play engages the child's imagination, games play upon the adult's reality.
To elucidate this further, think of play as a noun rather than a verb.
play (plā), -n. 1. a dramatic composition; drama. 2. a dramatic performance, as on the stage. 3. activity, often spontaneous, engaged in for recreation as by children. 4. fun or jest, as opposed to earnest. 5. a pun. 6. the action or conduct of a game. 7. the act or instance of playing. (the remaining fourteen definitions omitted)
In plays, there are genres, stages, lines, actors, a hero, a villain, a climax, a conclusion, and most of all, a moral or lesson embedded in the plot. Now parallel this to game play. In games, there are types, boards, rules, players, a winner, a loser, chance, an outcome, and the values learned from playing the game, as ingrained by its objective.
An individual sits down to play a game. They are a "player." Their "stage" is the board, upon which they act out this newfound role. Their "lines" are framed by the rules they must follow in order to suit the objective, or "plot." At the rattle and roll of the dice (the climatic moment) the outcome is evidenced and the conclusion realized. And so the curtain falls as the "hero", the winner, conquers the "villain", the loser.
For children, play is its own end. For adults, play is merely a means
to an end. Herein lies the difference between "playing house"
and playing Monopoly. Play simply reflects culture. Games induce culture.