I came across this page of Wikipedia. Actually, I was searching web for the opposite word of 'sportsmanship' and landed there. It's clear that the word game in this context is considered negative. It's interesting to learn that the antonym for sportsperson/manship is gamesmanship but then it tickled my brain with a question!

Is the word game always shows negativity? If this is so, what does the game of xxxx mean as in The game of chess and the game of politics.

There's also a book titled Master the game of success. Does it mean that it may (of course, along with good ways) teach us unrighteous ways to solve problems and become successful?


For him, life is all game! - Do I consider him zealous or frivolous?


2 Answers 2


Game is not negative if it is just a game. A game serves entertainment and little else. There's nothing wrong in it by itself.

If you call something serious "a game" you are depreciating its meaning. You imply it's being done "for fun", as idle entertainment, with no deeper meaning or purpose (or with these being secondary to the entertainment value).

Professional sportsmen consider their sports a lifestyle. They sacrifice a lot - their private lives, often their health, countless time. Treating their passion as "just a game" may feel deriding.

If you call someone's approach to politics "a game" you imply they care about personal success and popularity, not the actual goals of politics - improving livehood of the people, improving the conditions of the country.

Still, if you choose to play Role-Playing Games, you do it for pleasure, as entertainment. There's nothing wrong about calling them their name - no deeper meaning to be depreciated.

(think similarly to using "a toy" when referring to a loaded gun vs a rubber ducky)

  • 2
    I would quibble that a game is not necessarily "entertainment and little else". A board game may be educational. An athletic game may be good for your health and fitness. But that doesn't alter your point.
    – Jay
    Nov 25, 2013 at 16:20

Largely ditto SF but let me add a couple of thoughts.

A game normally has set rules and defined boundaries.

On the one hand, this means that if, say, you lose thousands of dollars in a board game, it's not real money, it's just play money, so it doesn't really matter. People will sometimes say, "Hey, this isn't a game!", meaning that, you are acting as if the consequences of actions were only for play, like in a board game. For example, if you made a business decision that was very risky and could result in many people losing their jobs, someone might say, "This isn't a game", meaning that you are not taking the consequences seriously enough. In that case, saying that you are treating something as a game is usually negative. In some cases, though, people will talk about a person considered the consequences TO HIMSELF lightly, and in that case they may say that he acted like something was a game and mean that positively.

When someone talks about "the game of success" or "the game of politics", what they usually mean is treating these things as a game in the sense of figuring out exactly what the rules are and how to win. That would be essentially a positive statement: we are going to discuss how to succeed at this endeavor. But note that the very same words could be meant in the sense I discussed in the previous paragraph. You have to look at the context to see which is meant.

And just a by-the-way, it could be argued that the metaphor doesn't really make sense. Many games do have serious consequences. You could lose all your money in high stakes poker, and you could be seriously injured in football, even though those are "just games". And in general there's an awful lot of money in professional sports. But whatever.

  • 4
    To add to this, there's another common phrase, "gaming the system". It's almost always intended negatively. It means someone is following the letter of the rules but not their spirit to get an unfair advantage. Or someone is taking advantage of "loopholes" in some rules to gain an advantage over others.
    – The Photon
    Nov 25, 2013 at 17:11
  • @ThePhoton Yes! Game used as a verb, rather than a noun, has an entirely different set of connotations. That would make an interesting answer in itself!
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 29, 2013 at 0:48
  • @WendiKidd I always assumed that connotation came from gaming, meaning gambling.
    – user91988
    Mar 7, 2019 at 20:34

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