Is Pledging a Fraternity Play?

The University of Michigan is a one of the biggest universities in the United States and has about 27,000 undergraduates enrolled. In order to feel part of a smaller community at a large school like Michigan many students join Greek life. Around 20% of undergraduates at Michigan are involved with Greek life.

university_of_michigan_by_bagera3005-d4kqxbrGreek life at Michigan is more similar to sports than most people believe:
Rush/Free agency: Fraternity rush is most similar to that of free agency in sports. You have players, or rushes, who visit different fraternities, or teams, and try to sell themselves as to why the fraternity should sign them. Then, the fraternity, or team, tries to convince the rushes that their fraternity is the best place for them and they have the most to offer. Eventually, rushes get bids, or contract offers, and they must accept just one offer.
Pledging/Training camp: Once you sign your bid, you are accepted into the fraternity as a pledge. As a pledge you have a period of time to prove yourself, similar to training camp, before the fraternity, or team, decides to admit you as a full-time member.
I am going to focus solely on pledging and if pledging is indeed play according to Johan Huizinga.


Johan Huizinga wrote a book, “Homo Ludens,” in which he discusses his definition of play. Huizinga breaks down what he believes constitutes play: being free, separate, make-believe, autotelic, and governed by rules. Does pledging a fraternity comply with all play conditions set forth by Huizinga?

Free: Huizinga describes free as in members are playing the game voluntarily and are free to make whatever decision they want. Pledging a fraternity, you have freedom to a certain extent. Certain tasks are mandatory, but you have the freedom to partake in certain actions that participation is strongly encouraged. I believe the freedom of pledging sways more towards not being free; therefore, it is not free under Huizinga’s definition. (0/1)
Separate from real life: According to Huizinga, in order to play, it must be separate from ordinary life for the players. When pledging, you have your phone on you at all times, as you must be available to answer to brothers. When you receive a call and are asked to do a task, you are now in your separate pledging life. If I was doing homework in the library, I am not on a task and in my ordinary life. However, if I am called to a task, I must enter my pledge life where I cannot take part in usual, normal life activities. As I write this paper, I am in my regular life, but come later tonight, I will be at the chapter house for education with no contact to the real world outside of my pledge class. My pledge life only consists on fraternity property and for a couple month period until I am either initiated or released. Due to the separation of real and pledge life, I do believe pledging is separate from ordinary life. (1/2)
Make believe: Huizinga believes that in order to be play, it must not be ordinary or real life. I believe pledging falls on the boarder of this category. Although pledging is a make-believe sorting process to gain acceptance into the fraternity, in order to be considered make-believe, it must be a second word alongside my real life. However, this is not true because I describe the state of my real life right now as pledge term. I must integrate pledging into my real life in order to succeed in school and my life over the next few months. Because pledging is integrated into my real life, it is real life. (1/3)
Autotelic: What drives a pledge to work hard and fulfill his duties is not the intrinsic value of finishing pledge term. One does not get paid once he finished. Pledges want to succeed for their fellow pledge brothers because they do not want to let them down. Pledging is autotelic because it is driven by its purpose, to build a brotherhood, not physical value. (2/4)
Governed by rules: Huizinga believes that in order for something to constitute play it must have order. Pledging is most definitely governed by rules. For example, while pledging you must refer to all brothers of the fraternity with respect by using their last names. If you break this rule you will be punished, however the punishment is not laid out directly. I compare this to the way yellow and red cards work in soccer, if you commit a foul you will be punished, but the punishment is up to the discretion of the referee. (3/5)

Many people will argue with my breakdown of pledging a fraternity in comparison to Huizinga’s rules about play, but that is because each person has a different pledging experience. Also, some may argue that because pledging does not comply with all 5 of Huizinga’s conditions, it is not play. However, for me, pledging is indeed a game, as I believe it is governed by rules and has no material interest. Also, I believe it is separate from ordinary life although it is as well real life. This is because when I am partaking in pledging duties, it is distinctly different, location and duration wise specifically, from my real life, but it is not a second world to me. According to Huizinga’s conditions, I believe pledging constitutes play.

3 thoughts on “Is Pledging a Fraternity Play?

  1. I really enjoyed this blog post, I really liked how in the 2nd paragraph you made related rushing to sports. I can relate to this because I had to deal with the whole recruiting process before I came to Michigan, and it seems as if rushing a fraternity is like the recruiting process all over again. I do agree with you that pledging is play. I just had one question, do you believe in some cases at a fraternity you have mostly all freedom to make your own decisions? because I feel as if the crazier the student is the more free they will end up being, which for some people can be considered as play as Huizinga sees it.


  2. I believe mostly you do not have the freedom to make your own decisions. For example, when pledging you have many things that are required of you and you don’t have much of a choice. As well, once you are in the fraternity you have decisions limited by the law, the university and more. I don’t see how being a crazier student would grant you more freedom.


  3. I strongly agree that rush in it of itself is very similar to sports. The need to sell yourself is definitely underestimated, girls’ sorority rush being very similar. However, like you said in your comment, much of actual pledging is nothing close to voluntary. Hazing and pledging has been criticized for years for its brutality and little regard for the health and wellbeing of the pledges themselves. While the end all be all of being in the fraternity as a member may be more than desirable, pledging is certainly not that.


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