There’s going to be a list down here. Don’t fear. It is there to help you find more excuses to play at work, in relationships, with your kids, as a scientist. It is there because I am very serious about play, but people miss the point when they see me play with everything around me. They think I’m not serious. I am. Seriousness is something else. Seriousness is a mask of ‘what will others think, when I behave other than what I think is expected here?’ Seriousness is a prison and here’s the liberation.
If lists or reading aren’t your thing then here is a link to a podcast, with an interview with me on Play. Why play is one of the most powerful forces on earth. :)
We must all play more! I have to retell this bit again and again. And the resistance is huge. Which is crazy. Play is not serious, according to many. What!? Play is serious as hell! The opposite of play is apathy, depression and compliance to a zombie society. We must, should, and I hope, would love to play more! Play is messy, chaotic, and lacks clear direction (unlike games). When I play I feel alive, present, can relate to kids of all ages. I can do all kinds of things, discover new things and failing most of the time is part of the fun and learning.
I once ‘fought’ with seven toddlers for half an hour. They kept screaming for more. Their parents around the fight smiled. They didn’t join or didn’t know how to. Or, I must admit, took their rest. The kids were very much in control. If I was too scary they would almost cry and ask me to be less scary. If I started running from them, they would ask me, to be the ‘monster’ again. I could only see how smart and honest these kids steered the ‘fight’, when I played with them. Yet, playing like this gets two reactions: compliments of those who long to do it too. And others who will not take you serious, for playing with kids is not being serious. Or is it?
So what is play good for*?
Basically play is how nature invented learning. All mammals learn through play. Playing is integral learning with your whole system(!) involved. When a young tiger hunts his mothers tail, it learns to move, be agile, be present in the moment and it learns the borders of it’s mothers patience. When children play tag, the simplest game ever, they learn so much at the same time: hunting and being hunted, (dealing with) winning and losing, motoric skills, fairness within the group, collaboration, how to improve the game when it gets boring, social patterns, leading and following, creativity, presence of mind, being present in the body and probably more. Compare that to sitting still behind a table and making sums. The only reason we teach like that is to drill compliance and being able to measure progress one level at the time. “B- for your sums, Johnny, you need to concentrate better.” Even though Johnny had perfect concentration in the tag game an hour before, when he was so concentrated he always knew how to turn aside into an unexpected direction in the last moment. And he helped frame a new rule (you can’t be tagged, when you hold someone else), because he was aware how the smallest children needed an extra way to escape.
“Without any form of play, civilization is impossible.” Johan Huizinga.
Biological Benefits of Play.
Physical play develops the body. Motoric skills are developed, so are muscles and flexibility. And, with a lot of falling down, dealing with pain.
Play helps build neurological networks. The science around this is developing fast, but it mostly supports what I keep on saying: Play is how nature invented learning.
Play helps with boosting a lot of healthy endorphins and hormones, helps your brain to deal much better with anxiety, and get more flexible too. (see links at bottom)
Play boost the biological aspects of power, leadership and partnering. Hormones make you play towards the other sex. It’s only when that play is disturbed (often through social anxieties) we get deviant patterns, ranging from shyness and shame to violent domination in order to get gratification. See next bit.
Social Benefits of Play
Playful people are more attractive to the other sex. Yes! Playful people feel safer and healthier to the other sex, especially for women. All the movies about creeps show it too. Creeps never play, or know how to play fight. There’s always a stiffness, something controlled and not genuine. Because when you play, you can’t control your image. So fakes fear to play.
Social relationships, collaborations, friendships are enhanced through play. No wonder men and women go play to bond, though they call it sport, game, share.
Play builds capacity to be free. It creates social flexibility. Play is the escape out of fight, flight or freeze modus. Because if you can play with something, you’re free in it. I can play fight with toddlers, play improv on stage, invent stories around the fire, deal with groups of bankers, refugees and hippies. Those that diminish playful expression of self are oppressors. Ask more what their interests or fears are.
Play builds culture and social patterns. Whenever there’s a party, where people add with playful contributions, from dressed up wagons to small acts on street corners, it adds to feeling community. Play also helps those patterns to evolve to new times and new games. Escape rooms, video games, sports, etc all derive from people playing with possibility and sharing their findings.
Play builds social, spacial and contextual awareness. Playing in your and with your environment means you develop relationships with your culture. You discover boundaries and you’ll discover ways to get things done within your context. Through play you mostly do this subconsciously. But in certain cultures the elders are revered. So if they freeze up, you’ve made a mistake. In others you find that asking with Bambi eyes gets you an extra cookie.
Play boosts the capacity to allow yourself to make mistakes and learn! When you play and fail, making mistakes means little to no harm is done. It’s a mood of exploration and people feel that. You tried and discovered. You didn’t die. The play mood makes you much freer of fear for social embarrassments. The play mood allows to show behavior outside our box. Men, secure in their maleness, can make some effeminate moves without fear of being thought of as gay. Homophobic guys, filled with fear of being seen as one, can’t. Thus playful people can cross borders in a safe way, while those filled with fear crab each other back to conformity. You choose.
Mind and Soul
Play is full system learning. It’s a totally integral synthesis of conscious, subconscious and biological developments. No, we don’t need to understand everything. My full system can comprehend stuff, my brain cannot. Blocking that capability, because of the need of proof or control is like cutting off an arm that makes things we don’t understand. Don’t handicap yourself or others like that. Open up.
Play boost adaptability. Playful people see possibility everywhere. Resilience in darker times needs that skill. Start Ups need everyone to stay open to help fill gaps, while it develops routines. It is an essential quality for fast changing times. Thus companies full of routines need to play to break routines, when the world around them changes. Then why does education still put so much emphasis on acting according to procedure, model and method? Man is not a machine! And should not trained to be.
Play boost collective intelligence. Yes. People playing together, or having a playful attitude are way more open to find, share, accept new possibilities and solutions. Since play is fully integral it also means their whole systems bring in information for the whole. This is as simple as a boring teacher noticing his class gets restless and he doesn’t demand attention, but rather brings in more excitement.
Play boosts critical and creative thinking. When Sir Ken Robinson claims schools kill creativity, here’s one of the main ways they do it: they curb playing. And because playing means seeing many other options, it also boosts critical thinking. Why do we do it that way, when this and this and this and this is possible too?
Play boosts the heart mind connection. The wah? Science has only barely begun to discover the relationship between thinking with the brain and the heart. Yet spiritual people know this from experience. Heartmind is when you make decisions with a sense of wisdom, sensing the whole your connection with an issue. A glow from the breast may point you to head in a certain direction. it’s up to the conscious thinking to define how. My believe and experience is, that play boosts my capacity to act, talk and play with my heartmind connection.
Play helps to channel. Now we go into more scary land for some. But many experiences in my life, make me believe this is how it works. In improv theatre one principle says: choose to know. As a actor in training I work with that. I once played a methadone addict (without ever having been close to one) and something happened. The group I was working with were stunned. I had behaved exactly like one of their heavy cases. Play may connect you to the Collective Consciousness or the Akasha Chronicles. Perhaps in more ordinary words, playing opens up to an intelligent common sense of how things work.
Play boost aliveness and inspiration. Indeed. Working in a 9–5 cubicle is killing. Playing with the situation (and day dreaming) the escape within the situation. Playful people seem more alive. They are fun to be with. They have adventures everywhere and spawn many new ideas. People that don’t play and especially those that curb play feel dead and anxiety driven. If you don’t want to end up dead, before dying, do play! And when you play a lot, you get ideas how to escape the cubicle (if you’re still in one) and get paid for much more fun work.
Play is being!
Yes, all of the above happens at the same time when you play. You play when you do art, dance, play hide and seek, roleplay, build lego castles (of own design!), invent games, chasing each other through the forest, play fight with friends and loved ones, cuddle without wanting, make love with laughter, mess around with stuff, experiment with whatever, etc. See how painfully much of school(work) is missing this experience. And I wonder how purpose driven games (for education) may lack play as well.
Bonus: Innovation and Play
Much more inventions happened because people messed around, than educators in science care to tell you. Hey, they teach method. But breaking the rules, trying it different, looking closer at the possibility within failures often led to astonishing results. Check, for instance, how Viagra or Post It notes were discovered. After such findings often scientists will put it in the traditional scientific frame needed to get published. Thus hiding the messiness that helped boost discovery.
Hey, even the universe plays. The weirdest animals walk this planet. Nature tries things out. Diversity means nature stores options. Monogamous people keep communities alive in times of STD’s. Cheaters prevent communities from inbreeding. It’s our own believes that want us to choose sides. Nature loves them both. The whole complex interacting play of everything in nature, has been build up over millennia. Our comprehension of how it works is still very very shallow. Thus don’t believe those who claim which interventions will boost business in a safe way. Or prevent natural disasters with geo engineering (which will lead to the biggest disasters of this century). The safest way of life is learning to play with how it works. It’s us playing to the rules of the bigger pattern and accepting those principles that make us part of the whole. It’s seeking to control the game, that leads to disease, in individuals, in organizations and in human society. Seeking to dominate is a deadly game.
Play as part of, because in the end: you are part of the whole. And when you play, you’ll find that whole is within you.
If you want to start a play revolution, than read onwards here: playvolution now
- ) Once again I write this from the top of my head, but I know science is quickly adding proof to most statements I make. It even improved my belief in play with many new insights, some of which I roughly mention. Go find the science in books like Play, how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and Invigorates the soul, The Power of Play or this unrelated article also called the Power of Play, which talks about biological and relational advantages of having a playful state.
- For people seeking more ways to play, or get playing: there’s this wonderful free book by Play Expert Bernie deKoven: A Playful Path.
- A nice addition is this short Youtube video on Play from BigThink.
- And what if you don’t play enough? You’ll never grow up! Even worse Play deprivation is an indicator for mass murder. Indeed.
- Warm heartened TEdx talk by Andre Stern who never went to school!
- I also used a lot of different (quotes in) pictures people posted on the internet to share. I may have mistakenly added one from someone not having that intention. Then I’ll remove it, when you ask.