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I wonder whether one can actually say 'I play computer every once in a while' instead of 'I play computer games every once in a while'. I haven't come across the former phrase in any written context and I doubt whether it can be considered grammatically correct.

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    You may play computer games, or play games (or music or videos) on your computer, but to play a/the computer means either to play a game with the computer as your opponent, like chess players, or to perform a work using the computer as your instrument, like Wendy Williams. – StoneyB Apr 26 '15 at 21:42
  • @StoneyB yes, but "play computer" is also totally valid. Even if the computer is not your opponent. – DJMcMayhem Apr 26 '15 at 22:03
  • @DJMcMayhem Really? I'll consult my expert on Millennial idiom when he gets home from work and confirm this. – StoneyB Apr 26 '15 at 22:12
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    To me it sounds like either mistaken/child grammar, or a phrase meaning "to pretend to be a computer". But that just shows what I know, doesn't it. – Dan Getz Apr 26 '15 at 22:43
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    When I was in school, way back awhile, we students would "play computer" when we would step through our code. This for higher level languages (e.g. fortran, pascal, etc.) and for assembler and for microcode. Especially for microcode, we students would act like we are the CPU, and for each instruction and for each clock cycle, indicate what goes on what busses and what gates get opened and closed, etc. Yup, we played computer a lot in those days (including the days when a program was punched cards), such as when a program was diodes and resistors on a board. – F.E. Apr 27 '15 at 0:37
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Is it gramatically correct? I'm not sure. A computer is not something that can be played. You can play on the computer, and you can play a computer game.

Is it acceptable to say? Absolutely! I say "playing computer" all the time. Actually, I probably say this more often than "playing computer games". Everybody will understand your meaning, and I doubt that anybody would think it sounds strange.

Now, StoneyB has a good point, if you say "playing the computer" (or even "a computer") it implies you are playing against a computer. This would sound a little bit strange unless someone is asking who you are playing against.

What are you doing?

"I'm playing computer." OR "I'm playing on the computer." OR "I'm playing computer games."

These all sound perfectly fine.

Who are you playing against?

"I'm playing the computer." OR "I'm playing against the computer."

Both of these also sound fine.

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    @ J.R. Well, I do not consider myself part of "The Gaming Community". I am actually shocked, I have always said this, and everyone I know frequently says this. It was not until today that I learned this isn't actually common. However, I'll take your word for it, since I seem to be in the minority here. – DJMcMayhem Apr 27 '15 at 2:17
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    It's Learn Something New Every Day! – Maulik V Apr 27 '15 at 5:43
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    @DJMcMayhem From my son, 25, who is a member of TGC: he has not encountered this, and if he did would take it to be mockery of non-native (probably Asian English) usage. However, "play vidja or vidya" is common in internet posts and messaging to mean "play video games". Apparently you and your circle have established a local dialect usage; perhaps it will catch on! – StoneyB Apr 27 '15 at 11:48
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    @StoneyB Just out of curiosity, does it sound correct if someone says, for example, "Playing Xbox"? – DJMcMayhem Apr 27 '15 at 15:00
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    @Yukatan Actually, I recommend you do not accept this answer. Apparently I am one of the few people that says "Play Computer". According to StoneyB, and Maulik V, and F.E. and snailboat, and basically everybody in this thread, it sounds wrong to most native speakers. – DJMcMayhem Apr 27 '15 at 20:06
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Either you play something or play with/against something.

The verb 'play' is taking a direct object in first case, which is your concern. Purely in the context of 'gaming', the direct object is some game in almost all the cases.

Said that...

Play football/cricket/rugby/chess and so on - All are games.

But...

Play computer -seems no standard English (at least to me).

Even if it is grammatical, it's ambiguous for sure.

However, you may ...

"... play with/against the computer".

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    It's grammatically correct to perform a verb on a noun. I resent being told I'm playing computers and also that I'm "playing" Lego. (Not least of all because one doesn't play Lego. Children might play "with" Lego, but not me. I "construct" with Lego. – KDM Sep 20 '16 at 20:24
  • In standard English we do not say "play with/against computer". It must be "play with/against the computer". – user21820 Aug 6 '17 at 5:44
  • @user21820 true! Corrected! – Maulik V Aug 9 '17 at 5:14
  • @MaulikV: Thanks! I've edited my answer accordingly. – user21820 Aug 9 '17 at 11:17
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We say "play [game/sport]" such as in:

play soccer/chess/go (the game's name makes it definite and hence no definite article is used)

And we say "play the [instrument]" such as in:

play the piano

And we say "play with [the tool / tools]" such as in:

play with the computer / play with computers

And we say "play against [the opponent / opponents]" such as in:

play against the computer

And we say "play the [role]" such as in:

play the fool/king/thief/computer (the last one includes pretending to be a computer)


Also, note that Standard English requires the use of the definite article in "the computer", and omitting it is ungrammatical. This is because "the computer" refers to a generic computer, not a specific one (which "a computer" would refer to), and all count nouns need a determiner such as the definite or indefinite article.

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