Time to play the change we want to see in the world!
“You’ll find the future, where people are having the most fun.” Steven Berlin Johnson
So ‘beng’ this word jumps into my head: “Playvolution*”. The ideal mix between revolution (enforced change) and evolution (change all by itself). And it makes total sense to me. We have to play more, towards what we want. Yes, seriously! Let’s play the change we wish to see in the world. Here’s how and why.
STEPPING STONE 1. Having to take (my) Play serious.
Often people give me the feeling I don’t take things serious enough. Indeed. The thing is: I don’t take things seriously…. as they are. It feels stuck and my mind always pictures what more is possible. Things may be good, but can be better, or different. Yes, I know, different is not always better, yet I prefer to experiment and am okay with admitting failure. Yet, way more than even I expect, I suddenly have to take my play seriously. What I present jokingly as play experiment, may work beyond even my expectations.
Too often it seems that those that play matter less. This general disregard of play (sadly defined as ‘not serious’) has often hurt me personally, and I think, deeply hurts us all, as seriousness often is the result of social fear. What if I lived more freely? Well, I find people may also be jealous. And rather than allowing themselves to play more, they seek to restrain others, and thus kill possibilities before they even can happen. Restraining play is actually blocking progress, blocking solutions to conflicts and limiting imagination and learning in children. Let’s see if we can unblock it and play the world better.
STEPPING STONE 2. The need for, and the power of, Play
Our world, as has been written about by me and many others, is urgently in need of change. War, destruction of nature, pollution, corruption at the highest levels, etc. You know the list. At the same time a lot is improving; there’s less war than ever before in history and more people with basic needs fulfilled. But hey, part of that is business developing new markets to sell damaging and polluting stuff to, because business has to grow. Here could follow a litany of the pitfalls of progress, as essential ecosystems are collapsing.
Yet progress also, and way more often than you know, happens through play. Through experimentation: “what will happen if I try this…” and then either a fail, a success or something truly unexpected. A new thing that can become the new normal for many, until a player, innovator or destructor comes along and changes the game … even further.
STEPPING STONE 3. Play enriches culture and people
The feeling of play also rejuvenates worn down neighborhoods. In the city of Amsterdam, the city council understands this. Bad neighborhood? Bring in artists. Let them live and work there very cheaply. They play. Soon there’s colors, (free) events, new things and cool places to be. Then people want to go and live there and prices start rising and the project developers come in. They improve the houses, clean up the mess and earn all the money. Sadly, hardly ever paying the artists for the value that they created. Indeed, think about that.
What’s so powerful about artists, and nowadays, young (social) start ups is that they create the ‘first snow’ feeling. This is the sentiment that arises when people walk out of their home and there’s a beautiful layer of snow in the world. Often we then become soft, more open to strangers and share this feeling of awe with each other. Good artists create that in neighborhoods; making the world around them more social, pleasurable, cultural and happy, thereby reducing stress, aggression, depression, misery and lack of meaning. In short: playful people make the world way more livable around them.
STEPPING STONE 4: Play can dissolve tensions and conflicts.
And why don’t we see more playful approaches to solve issues much in movies or literature? Well why wouldn’t heroes solve all the tension with some fun? Well, because play takes away all the drama and dissolves the conflict. When you can laugh together about an issue, the conflict is over.
I once walked with a friend on a street where a conflict was about the burst into a fight. Having heard of cases where the guy who intervened got stabbed, I did something else. A good 2o meters beyond the angry guys, I went, with an okay by my friend, bollocks on him, shouting harder, crazier, more mad than the angry guys. But since it wasn’t directed at them, they didn’t know what to do with it. It was a funny, not funny sight to watch. Yet in that confusion they forgot their own troubles and relaxed. As soon as my friend whispered: “it’s over, they split ways.” I relaxed and we walked on.
This is exactly why we need more of play to solve tensions in reality.
STEPPING STONE 5: Those that don’t play, make matters worse.
So all these serious people seeking to solve serious matters like war, like security, like poverty and like violence in neighborhoods, often fail because they don’t adhere to this principle: play makes change lighter, more fluid, easier, adaptive and fun. The intelligence agencies dealing with national security create mostly more of what they seek to prevent: suspicion, treason, intrigue, corruption & new enemies. Those are their weapons and the result is more of those, not only against the people they target, also in their own culture as all these aspects and paranoia will rise. The war machine, creates wars, for profit, to have testing grounds, to show power. All of which leads to more violence and, event when the war is far away, soldiers coming home with trauma’s. Etc.
All those parties that sit, often even well paid, around big meetings tables and discuss serious problems, I think, prolong the problem by staying serious. Their planning, decisions, approaches are often met with distrust and accused of disconnection with the people it matters to. Because planning through meeting is mostly purely mental and therefore disconnected in essence. Also many protesters fight these boardroom people through protest, shouting, throwing things and ending up in the paper as the problem themselves. Then there’s therapists whose serious approach makes the client feel heavily burdened by his problem and the weight of it all. They all miss the power of play and don’t understand the fundamental thing: More play can be the answer to our problems. Play liberates and at the same time often is deeply connected, beyond mental understanding.
“There’s no civilization possible without an element of play.” Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens
So here’s the message to all of them and a call to the world:
LET’S START THE PLAYVOLUTION*
“Play the change you want to see in the world.”
What is the Playvolution?
The playvolution is to play the change. To play with the issues. Unlimited creative play is a critical component of healthy development for individuals and society as a whole. It is about making issues light, fun and artistic; about bringing creative approaches to the fray. It is to relax about what should, and explore what could. The playvolution helps both evolution and the gentle revolution forward. It helps the march of progress to evolve into a more involving, more playful and fun, more emergent and iterated society. Because when we play with the change, exploration, relationships and dialogue will become so much easier. And when we look closer, we can see playvolution examples all around us.
Want to live this?
The hopeful things is, that allowing yourself more freedom to play is liberating, it speeds up learning and creates many new ideas.
Want more “first snow” sensations in your neighborhood or city?
Create riddles that leave people talking to each other about what it means. (most of following links are in Dutch) Anne de Vries of Idefix had players ask strangers for a ride on the back of their bikes, which led to surprising meetings and interesting conversations. Nils Roemen helps to safe the city of Nijmegen with a game all through the city. This makes many citizens talk and look at their city with different eyes. Creatieve Universiteit Haarlem ask puzzle fanatics to help to police with riddles they couldn’t solve. With Edushifts United we created a book journey game to get people talking.
Want to make the world know about issues that threaten to be forgotten or overlooked?
Here’s is an action by the Yesmen that cost Dow Chemicals a whopping 3 billion within a few hours, and brought the Bhopal disaster, back into the light. One can judge the Yesmen for pretending to be a Dow spokesperson, yet this ‘joke’ brought this almost forgotten affair back into the light in a way thousands normal activists couldn’t do. Here’s some tips by them. And here the trailer to their latest movie.
Want people to get involved more?
Play, games, gamification can help to get people into a game. I hosted kick off’s where people would meet through games on a deeper level, and would experience physically what would be asked from them in the project. They could experience how new principles “feel free to ask anyone anything” would make approaching stranger way easier and or speaking up in projects actually safer. I now work at festivals and parties where simple assignment cards help new people break barriers.
Want more social and cultural experimentation or innovation?
At many festivals experiments happen with rules and principles on how to live together. That can go from ‘alcohol and drugs free’ environment to, like at Burning Man, a radical gifting economy. Such experiments should be better observed by scientists, as they might be surprised. I myself hosted at various festivals various ‘Counters for Life Questions’ where children answer the life questions of adults. It turned out to be very empowering for children, while some adults, who still believed children are empty vessels in need to be filled with educational knowledge, were shocked to experience how wise and sharply perceiving children could be.
Want to start a global change game?
Perhaps the best way to start is to understand that all of our society already is a game, with very loose rules, if those with power either choose to change, ignore or break rules as they please. And so can you. What rules would you like to see change? What attitude, small behavior can you induce that is easy to follow, can be phrased as a simple rule, yet leads to very different behavior? What actions create fun, that others would like to do too? And are at the same time a statement against the powers that be. Ask yourself many questions and try things out.
Is it easy, or one more simple fix?
No, it can fail as well. I worked on several, now dead, global projects that sought to move the online adventure game to the real streets. For each the premisse was awesome: Can we get players to improve the real world? One huge problem we found, apart from ego’s getting in each others hair, is getting people to interact with the real world. There’s risks in the real world, that aren’t in games where you can always try again; think fines, broken relationships, fights or even arrest. So game design is tough and hard, but hey, more fun than endless boring meetings that make matters worse.
Are such setbacks reasons to stop?
No! Perhaps a hard thing for the playful people, but game design itself is a precise and complex craft. It takes time, focus, and trying over and over to get it right. I’ve done designs that seemed great, to find major flaws when testing. Yet, when you see it as a complex puzzle, you can dive into to get it right and find that game design can be an as thrilling ride as it is for the players.
And on the other hand, there’s the joy of it all. If you are open and playful, and easily apologize (mistakes will happen), you can get away with so much more. A true playful spirit can become kind of untouchable and unique, and that is attractive too. Though you may be confronting for more self restraining people, or not be taken serious enough. But for me, that pain outweighs the pain of boxing myself in by far. For more and deeper reading on your personal attitude: the art of foolkido.
For more on play and what play does for you and your body. Play, and play some more.
*) The term playvolution was already coined. Their meaning, widely overlapping mine: PLAYvolution supports and promotes the idea that unstructured, unplugged, and unlimited creative play is a critical component of healthy development. The biological and psychological evidence increasingly shows play contributes to lifelong success factors including creativity, confidence, social and emotional skills, communication, empathy, and resilience. There’s also Playvolution the book by Karen and Alex Powell
Wonderland: How Play made the modern world, by Steven Berlin Johnson. The link on progress through play points to his TED talk on the subject.
Three other essential books on the matter: Homo Ludens, by Johan Huizinga. Finite and Infinite Games, by James Carse. The Play Ethic by Pat Kane.