play the game

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play the game

To conform, adhere to, or agree with that which is established or generally accepted, such as rules, beliefs, modes of behavior, etc. You might have some wild ideas for the future, but you'll never get anywhere in this business if you don't start playing the game! We all tend to have revolutionary ideals in our youth, but we usually play the game as we grow older.
See also: game, play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play the game

Behave according to accepted customs, obey the rules. For example, Not every foreign company can be counted on to play the game. The game here alludes to a sport with a set of rules. [Late 1800s] Also see play games.
See also: game, play
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play the game

COMMON If you play the game, you do things in the accepted way or in the way that people who are senior to you in an organization expect you to, in order to keep your job or to succeed. To do well in politics, you have to play the game. The two official opposition parties must also play the game by the President's rules. Compare with be not playing the game.
See also: game, play
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

play the game

behave in a fair or honourable way; abide by the rules or conventions.
1993 Andy McNab Bravo Two Zero Shorncliffe was a nightmare, but I learned to play the game. I had to—there was nothing else for me.
See also: game, play
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play the ˈgame

behave in a fair and honest way: That’s the third time this week you’ve left me to finish all your work. You’re not playing the game, Luke.
See also: game, play
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

play the game

Informal
To behave according to the accepted customs or standards.
See also: game, play
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play the game, to

To behave fairly and honorably; also, to go along with a particular set of rules. The first meaning of this term was already being applied in Chaucer’s time, but it did not come into wide use until the late nineteenth century. Rudyard Kipling, that quintessential Victorian, used it (The Maltese Cat, 1898), “Play the game, don’t talk.” This usage, however, is obsolescent, at least in America. Another version of the term appears in the poem “Alumnus Football” by the American sportswriter Grantland Rice (1880–1954), which itself gave rise to a slightly different cliché: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks—not that you won or lost—but how you played the game.” In contrast, the very similar to play games, or playing games, means to act evasively or deceitfully, as in: “Her ex-husband is playing games about child-support payment.”
See also: play, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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