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People participating in summer luge as a form of recreation, in the Vosges.

Recreation or fun or play is the use of time in a manner designed for therapeutic refreshment of one's body or mind. While leisure is more likely a form of entertainment or rest, recreation is active for the participant but in a refreshing and diverting manner. As people in the world's wealthier regions lead increasingly sedentary life styles, the need for recreation has increased.

General description

Recreation, play, and fun are not the preserve of humans. Play is essential for the development of skills, the most basic of which are motor skills in young creatures.[1]

As a theoretical concept, play is notoriously difficult to tightly define. Rather than having a single meaning play is best seen as descriptive of a range of activities that can be ascribed to humans and non-humans. Unspecialized people use the word "play" as a contrast to other parts of their lives: sleep, eating, washing, work, rituals, etc. Each type of specialist also may use the word "play" in their own particular way. For example "Play therapists" may use the term for self-absorbed individuals who cannot benefit from more formal work-type of therapies.

Sociologist David Reisman has come to the conclusion that play is a quality (opposed to an activity) that we can only vaguely describe. Mark Twain commented that play and work are words used to describe the same activity under different circumstances. This viewpoint is reflected in the work of anthropologists who attempt to distinguish "play" and "nonplay" in different cultures.

Attempts have been made to identify the qualities of play, but this task is not without its ambiguities. For example, play is defined as nonserious activity; yet when watching children at play, one is impressed at the seriousness with which they engage in it. Other criteria of play include a relaxed pace and freedom versus compulsion. Yet play seems to have its intrinsic constraints as in, "You're not playing fair."

When play is structured and goal orientated it is often done as a game. Play can also be seen as the activity of rehearsing life events in a safe context e.g. young animals play fighting. These and other concepts or rhetorics of play are discussed at length by Brian Sutton-Smith in the book The Ambiguity of Play.

The seminal text in play studies is Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. This work popularised the notion of the Magic Circle as a conceptual space in which play occurs. That is, the state in which the various actions in play have meaning e.g. kicking (and only kicking) a ball in one direction or another, using physical force to impede another player (in a way which might be illegal outside the context of the game).

Another classic in play theory is Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois. This work extends and in large parts disputes the theories put forward by Huizinga.

A notable contemporary play theorist is Jesper Juul who works on both pure play theory and the application of this theory to Computer game studies. The theory of play and its relationship with rules and game design is also extensively discussed by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in their book: Rules of Play : Game Design Fundamentals.

The choice of hours for recreation is, for employees, restricted by the requirements of, and agreements with, the employer (working time), and for students by school hours. For people with their own business it is also restricted by the requirements of the work, such as the opening hours of the business based on wishes of customers, laws, and customs.

The weekend is usually a time for recreation, perhaps because in Judeo-Christian and Muslim cultures the weekend Sabbath is "the day of rest". Holidays are also a common time for recreation, though recreation may take place at virtually any time. Recreation commonly occurs during an individual's discretionary, or free, time.

Traditionally Olympics, music and dance serve as recreation in many cultures, as do sports, hobbies, games and tourism. On the other hand, watching TV, playing video games, and listening to music are common forms of leisure.[2]

Legal restrictions

Some recreational activities are made illegal in many jurisdictions because of the perceived immorality of certain forms of "fun". These include gambling, using drugs, some forms of sex, viewing or producing erotica/pornography, and some forms of dancing (such as belly dance), or even all dancing (see Footloose, Taliban). Often one form of an activity is viewed as immoral by a culture while other forms are viewed as acceptable. For example, certain forms of sexual activities have been outlawed in certain regions, such as prohibitions against sodomy in parts of the United States (though the Supreme Court recently ruled such laws unconstitutional in the Lawrence v. Texas case), while other forms of sex are acceptable. Another example is recreational drug use. In most of the world, responsible alcohol consumption, a form of recreational drug use is legal and acceptable by most people's moral standards. This is probably because alcohol has traditionally been in wide use.[3] Nearly all drugs that traditionally have not been widely used in European culture have been deemed illegal in most of the world. It is disputed whether these prohibitions affect the usage rates for most drugs. However, in much of the Western world, decriminalization of so-called soft drugs is increasingly accepted.


Some individuals view recreation as largely non-productive, even trivial. Excessive recreation is not considered healthy, and may be labeled as escapism. However, research has shown that recreation contributes to life satisfaction, quality of life, health and wellness, and that the use of recreation as a diversion may have clinical applications to individuals with chronic pain and other health impairments. In some cultures and religions, recreation is encouraged on certain days and discouraged on others. For example, in Judaism, the Shabbat is a day for recreation and relaxation, which has in turn influenced many Christian sects to use the Sabbath for the same purpose. However, some sects interpret the Sabbath to be a day where worship is done in lieu of recreation.

Recreation is essential to the longevity of human beings, especially because it helps counteract stress. According to research cited in Time magazine, stress is a major factor in many of the leading causes of death in the United States.[4]

Organized recreation

Recreation during weekend along riverbanks in Japan

Recreation can become an organized activity of local governments and for-profit enterprises. Local governments often create parks boards and/or community centers. Growing interest and funding via grants and taxation can result in an official parks and recreation department, which provides venues and staffing for organised sports, at-risk-youth activities, arts and crafts, and senior citizen activities. Several U.S. state governments operate recreation programs for their prison populations. Though controversial, these programs are intended to provide inmates with constructive use of their time through access to music, hobbies, crafts and exercise equipment. Other possible benefits include reduced healthcare costs and a lower recidivism rate. Private organised recreation is usually focused on a specific type of sport such as river rafting or mountaineering.

Recreation as a career

Becoming a recreation specialist often requires a bachelor of arts degree in recreation management. A recreation specialist would be expected to meet the recreational needs of a community or assigned interest group. People with such degrees often work in parks and recreation centers in towns, on community projects and activities. Networking with instructors, budgeting, and evaluation of continuing programs are common job duties. Most U.S. states have a professional organization for continuing education and certification in recreation management. The National Recreation and Park Association administers an examination called the CPRP (Certified Park and Recreation Professional) that is considered a national standard for professional recreation specialist practices.[5]


In recent years, more 'exciting' forms of recreation have received more attention in the public eye, such as: skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, sky diving, hang gliding, paintball, rock climbing, backpacking, canyoning, caving, BASE jumping and adventure tourism.

See also

References & Bibliography

  1. Alex Hawes. Jungle Gyms: The Evolution of Animal Play. Zoogoer. URL accessed on 2007-06-14.
  2. Wildland Recreation Management: Module One: Meanings, Concepts, and Values. Parks and Recreation Management Program, Arizona State University. URL accessed on 2007-06-14.
  3. Sheila B. Blume. Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety. URL accessed on 2007-06-18.
  4. Claudia Wallis. Stress: Can We Cope?. Time. URL accessed on 2007-06-14.
  5. CPRP Exam. National Recreation and Park Association. URL accessed on 2007-06-14.

Key texts


  • Cohen, D. (1987) The Development of Play, London.Croons Helm
  • Ellis, M.J. (1973) Why People Play, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Garvey, C. (1977) Play, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Groos, K. (1901) The Play of Man, New York: Appleton.
  • Miller, S. (1968) The Psychology of Play, Baltimore, Md.: Penguin.


  • Rubin, K.H., Fein, G.G. and Vandenberg, B. (1983) Play. In: E.M. Hetherington (ed.) Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. IV Socialisation, Personality and Social Development. New York: John Wiley.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1967) Play and its role in the mental development of the child, Soviet Psychology 12: 62-76.

Additional material



  • Google Scholar
  • Bateson, G. (1955) A theory of play and fantasy, Psychiatric Research Reports 2: 39-51.

External links

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