The Meaning of Playfulness: A Review of the Contemporary Definitions of the Concept across Disciplines


  • Leland Masek Tampere University
  • Jaakko Stenros Tampere University



engagement, literature review, meta-synthesis, play, playful, playfulness,


‘Playfulness’ is a concept used in various disciplines. In this article, we conduct a qualitative, systematic, and interdisciplinary literature review on the term ‘playfulness’ as used in recent scholarship. The article aims to overcome the ambiguity relating to ‘playfulness’ in order to create opportunities for growth in all related fields of study. Based on 429 written works and the 184 extracted definitions of ‘playfulness’ across disciplines, we find six clusters of meaning all of which emphasise engagement. Three themes describe different methods for how engagement is structured to become a higher priority than its context. The other three themes discuss structural characteristics of contexts that are playfully engaged in. A new synthetic conceptualization is offered: Playfulness prioritizes engagement over external consequence, realness, or convention. Furthermore, the study argues that playfulness is not a ‘what’ or a ‘why,’ but a ‘how,’ a priority organizing principle.

Author Biographies

Leland Masek, Tampere University

Leland Masek is a researcher, studying at Tampere University’s doctoral programme in Information Sciences and Interactive Media. His current work focuses upon playfulness across discipline, culture, and as it relates to mental health. He currently works with the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at Tampere University in Finland.

Jaakko Stenros, Tampere University

Jaakko Stenros (PhD) is a University Lecturer at the Game Research Lab, Tampere University. He has published nine books and over 50 articles and has taught game studies for a decade. Stenros studies play and games, his research interests include norm-defying play, queer play, role-playing games, game rules, and playfulness.




How to Cite

Masek, L. and Stenros, J. (2021) “The Meaning of Playfulness: A Review of the Contemporary Definitions of the Concept across Disciplines”, Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, 12(1), pp. 13–37. doi: 10.7557/23.6361.