The Paradox of Play

L084050annwig016What do you think of when you see or hear the word “Play”?

Spontaneous? Carefree? Free-for-all? Imagination? Fantasy? Childhood? Make-it-all-up-as-you-go-along? Chaos? Anarchy? Freedom?

Do you also think about frameworks? Structure? Rules of Engagement? Rules of the group?

There’s an unspoken paradox at the core of play/playfulness – in that it is, at the same time, both “rule-free” and rule-bound.

It hadn’t occurred to me until I started reading up about Play. I am very much attracted to the Freedom side of Play – the side of play playfulness that liberates us from obligations to meet specific targets, outcomes, results imposed on us by external forces, be they img_0820colleagues, family, our boss or simply a biological imperative. I love and crave the freedom to let my mind roam free, indulging my senses, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, smelling roses or jasmine, being caressed by beautiful music or a gentle hand. wp_20160329_11_47_45_proFeeling the power of the sea pull the sand between my toes. Taking a brightly coloured pen or pencil and doodling without any particular plan about what is going to emerge. Tweaking a recipe to add flavour and spice. It’s all part of play.

And yet, play does have rules. Especially social play. Even solo play has parameters and criteria by which we can define it as play …. that the player is at liberty to quit at any time, for example, and that the focus is on the activity itself not a specific end result. For more specifics about the elements of play, I suggest a foray into Stuart Brown or Peter Gray. Ah I just love saying Gray on Play!

Social Play, as I was reminded by Gray has rules that need the agreement of all the players. It can incorporate fantasy and have a broomstick be a flying machine – or a horse, or whatever the chooses to have it be. But the fantasy game is only upheld if everyone in the group agrees on the same fantasy.

If someone doesn’t like the rules, they are at liberty to quit and leave but they will only be able to change the rules if everyone else in the group agrees.

In this way, children come across and learn about individual freedom – looking after their own needs and wants – and looking out for and taking care to meet the needs of others. It’s a hugely important part of socialisation.

wp_20150806_11_44_04_proIn the adult world we can face a lot of prejudice against Play. It’s deemed pointless, a waste of time, childish, irresponsible, indulgent, lazy, undisciplined, free-wheeling, coasting, unproductive … oh I could go on but I shan’t…

And yet Play can teach us so much. It relaxes the mind allowing our creativity to flourish. It paves the way for innovation, novel problem-solving. It recharges our batteries allowing for increased, not decreased, productivity overall. It creates and enhances social bonds- great for networking. It gives us the freedom to learn and ‘fail’ without the world crashing down.

Yes, Play provokes Fear and Play invokes Freedom. Play is rule-free and rule-bound. The Great Paradox of Play. I’ll write in more detail on Play another day. For now, I’d love to know …  How will you play today? 

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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