1. phrasal verb [no passive] If you say that someone is playing at something, you disapprove of the fact that they are doing it casually and not very seriously. [disapproval] [V P n/v-ing] ⇒ We were still playing at war–dropping leaflets instead of bombs. 2. phrasal verb [no passive] If someone, especially a child, plays at being someone or doing something, they pretend to be that person or do that thing as a game. [V P n/v-ing] ⇒ Ed played at being a pirate. 3. phrasal verb → play If you do not know what someone is playing at, you do not understand what they are doing or what they are trying to achieve. [informal] [V P] ⇒ She began to wonder what he was playing at. [V P] ⇒ 'What do you think you're playing at?' he said. 'I can't sell this.'
COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. Copyright © Harper Collins Publishers