"The cat seems to want to play with the string."
Translation:Katten verkar vilja leka med snöret.
Why's spela not allowed here? Is there a difference in the types of play to which they refer?
Yes, spela is for games with rules and playing instruments, whereas leka is for free games, so leka is the one that fits here.
Can you explain a bit more, please? How strict is the "games with rules"-rule? What would you use for videogames, for example? I also heard that there's another verb for playing something "att lira" (which supposedly also has some special connotation?).
You "spelar" videogames, but you "leker" hide and seek (kurragömma). "Lira" is slang and typically used for playing football: att lira fotboll. It can be used for other sports as well, e.g. "lira handboll" och "lira ishockey", but I have never heard anyone say "lira" about videogames :).
Thanks! Is there a reason why leker is used for hide and seek (it does have rules, doesn't it?). Videogames were just one example that came to my mind, because I'd really like to understand this "games with rules"-rule a bit better. How strange does it sound if someone uses the "wrong word" for the wrong context? For example "leker" for videogames instead of "spelar"?
And about "lira": I play hurdy gurdy (Vevlira in Swedish, hence my nickname :) ) and I first heard the word from three Swedish hurdy gurdy players. Outside of Sweden, their band is just called "the Swedish hurdy gurdy trio", but inside of Sweden they call themselves "Trelirare", which is supposed to be a special pun. "Tre" because they're three players, "lirare" for player and apparently lirare also has some special meaning which they said couldn't be really explained if you don't know Swedish... if I remember correctly, they said that lirare can also be used to describe a somewhat crazy person? That's why "lira" really got stuck in my head. (and it can also be used for playing music instruments?)
Oh yes, you are right, "lira" can be used for instruments as well. I must confess that I had never heard of "vevlira" before, but now I have googled it and know what it looks like. "En lirare" means "a player" but also something like "a cool guy".
"Leka videogames" sounds as if you are a child pretending to play videogames :). But it's not easy to explain the difference, since hide and seek for example does have rules and still you say "leka".
Does one spela board games, chess, checkers and mental/oral games (e.g., word-building or quiz games) too?
Yes, you definitely "spelar" board games! If a mental/oral game is really silly, I guess you can use "leka" instead :).