In this paper, I develop an account of play and playfulness, argue it is superior to its rivals and investigate the value of play so understood. I begin by laying out some interesting semantic features of ‘play’ which have not previously been systematically investigated (section 1). A failure to note these distinctions can lead theorists (and has led them) into unwitting equivocations and confusions. Drawing on this broader semantic framework, I lay out and motivate a positive account of the meaning of ‘play’ and the nature of play full-stop (section 2). I then survey some of this account’s main advantages (section 3) and argue that the theory helps us better understand the value of play (section 4), where this value should inform both moral theory and political philosophy. I then compare the proposal with rival theories (section 5). I conclude by suggesting directions for further research.