play the game, to

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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
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in classic literature ?
A Chief may, and often does, play almost an entire game without leaving his own square, where, mounted upon a thoat, he may overlook the entire field and direct each move, nor may he be reproached for lack of courage should he elect thus to play the game since, by the rules, were he to be slain or so badly wounded as to be compelled to withdraw, a game that might otherwise have been won by the science of his play and the prowess of his men would be drawn.
Felix here, who knows him best, says that he will not come because he prefers ever to play the game from outside the circle, a looker-on to all appearance, yet sometimes wielding an unseen force.
The screenshots suggest that playing the game for "too long" or for six hours results in the game being locked with a message that reads, "You've played the game for 6 hours today," and to come back next day to play the game.
Joe said: "We always knew there was a chance the birth would fall during the match, but Lizzie backed me and made it an easy decision for me to play the game. Nothing was really happening at midday on Tuesday, but as I was driving to the game Lizzie called me to say that her waters had gone.
"If I can give them one bit of advice it would be that they need to play the game," said Cooper.
The boy was reportedly forced by his step-father, Maasa Kawabata, 28, to play the game for at least three hours daily and with no breaks in between for a period of three weeks, reported (http://www.weirdasianews.com/2014/02/14/japanese-child-ill-threeweek-gta-5-stint/) Weird Asia News .
This cricketer has claimed to play the game for his country and sports India's tricolour on his helmet and the bag in which he carries his sporting gear.
While both Taylor and Ireland dream of a day when the WPFL will be on par with the NFL in size and mainstream popularity, Ireland says that it's enough for now that women who want to play the game have a place to do that.
How many times have you heard an announcer say: "When players get to the big leagues, they know how to play the game properly."
Valerenga decided early yesterday afternoon that it would be virtually impossible to play the game in their Ullevaal Stadium because temperatures would have plummeted to minus 10 by the end of February when the game is scheduled to be played.
Julie, of Birmingham Road, Ansley, was one of five contestants chosen to play the game, hosted by Bruce Forsyth.
She has won two world championships and an Olympic gold medal, and has scored more career goals than any other woman or man to play the game.
Do campers have the physical abilities necessary to play the game? Many junior high and very young campers have poor body control and may require more room for stopping and changing direction.
Now 71, super-fit, and still competing on the Senior Tour, the cigar-chomping Sifford endured random abuse to play the game he loves.