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

Leland Masek, Jaakko Stenros


‘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.


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

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