Games and Sports

English is a funny language; its complex characteristics, structure and usage can still pose questions to even fluent speakers of the language.

“What is the definition of game”? Or better still, “what is the difference between game and sport”? are questions that we may never find complete answers to. While activities like cricket, tennis, basketball or baseball can be called games and sports, horse riding and hunting cannot be merely called ‘games’; the term ‘sports’ suits them better.

Many dictionaries and thesauri confirm that the two words are synonyms although originally the term ‘sport’ may have originally been used to describe an activity that means varying degrees of physical exertion. Games and sports are pastimes as well as contests, between individuals or groups but the term ‘games’ is used largely in an umbrella-context to include activities that require physical prowess, mental capabilities and other fine-tuned skills. The last few decades have expanded the use of the term to denote many activities – card games, children’s games, online games, board games, paper games, parlour games and many others that are sometimes based on sporting activities like cricket, tennis, baseball, track and field events etc.

However, the larger opinion is that although a game can be a sport and vice-versa, the usage of the term ‘sport’ seems to define that it is an activity that involves pitting energies, skills and wits against another individual or a team with the ultimate aim of winning. A game can on the other hand, be also played as a leisure activity. In the modern-day context, a sport can also be a full-time career or profession – e.g. cricket, tennis, baseball, badminton etc. unlike card games and online games.

Games have been an intrinsic part of human culture and evolution; it has been present in cultures as early as 2600 BC and is a universal part of the human experience. There has been no society in the past that has been devoid of games and sports. Historically, the ancient Greek civilization brought the concept of games and sports into wider play and we are even today celebrating the Olympics on a global level.

Definition of ‘game’

In the late 19th century, the Austrian-British academic philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein of Austrian-British descent was the first academic philosopher who ventured a definition for the term ‘game’. Wittgenstein’s forte was ‘logic’ and he worked on several theories in the philosophies of language, mathematics and mind. His argument was that the ‘elements’ governing a game such as method of play, rules and competition fail to adequately provide a definition for what games are. He concluded that ‘game’ or ‘games’ applied to a wide variety of activities that were so disparate and bore hardly any resemblance to each other. Over the years, many others voiced different views but the universal view held today is that of Bernard Suits. Suits defined game as an ‘activity which is engaged in to bring about a specific result, using only methods stipulated by specific rules’. Thus, the argument that the ‘methods stipulated by specific rules’ are more limited in scope by the absence rather than the presence of rules and the sole reason for accepting these limitations is to ensure that such activity could be undertaken, won the day and is seen today as the widely accepted definition.

A game is a form of play where there is a structure and there are rules; it is primarily an activity undertaken for enjoyment and leisure and sometimes as an educational implement. A ‘game’ is distinct from a ‘sport’ which can provide remuneration. But the distinction is overlapping and is not always clear-cut.

Games usually involve physical and mental stimulation and the key components are:

• Goals
• Rules
• Challenges
• Interaction

Besides these, most games help in the development of practical skills and serve as forms of exercise and stimulation. They epitomize a unique feature of human activity and although the fun aspect is dominant, they also instill in us positive traits like discipline, co-operation, team-work and the spirit of freedom.

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