As adults, acknowledging the role of play is often lost if not completely forgotten. Maybe it’s because it feels too childish, or silly. Maybe it's because the word is associated with an irresponsible use of time. The concept of play was a resounding theme during my first semester at the Centre for Digital Media. There are many types of ways we play, from online to offline, social to solitary. But the foundation of play fundamentally stays the same: It’s allowing yourself to laugh, fail, attack a challenge in an unconventional way. And it can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. There are also many different types of play.
In game play for example, you might take on the identity of a master chief to protect humanity against the aliens (Halo, anyone?). In Monopoly, it’s taking on the role of a property developer who is trying to own the board and not go bankrupt. There has become an association between the word “game” and “fun” that somehow makes it the only acceptable way to play as an adult. But what if we were to extend the principles of play outside of a controlled world? What if we introduced it into our very reality, as a part of our lives and the way we interact with each other? One of the best examples of how to integrate play in adult lives I learned during improv. Quite literally, it ranged from prototyping our dream house with cardboard to guiding each other through a room blindfolded. Learning to trust that you won’t be made fun of, that it’s OK to laugh through a challenge, use colours, or to take part in something purely for the enjoyment of it.
To me, the concept of play as an adult comes with a lightheartedness that doesn’t come easily. We all tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to define who we are and to behave in a certain way. To me, play means taking ourselves less seriously. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes and try different things. Even if it means literally using basic building blocks again to solve a problem.
If we were to divide the concept of play into personal and social, at a personal level it might mean re-connecting with childhood hobbies or finding new ones. For me, it was drawing and collaging. Somehow along the path of growing up, I forgot that I loved to visually piece together thoughts in my head. To play in this sense has meant allowing myself to draw a (very) imperfect picture of a building and be OK with it.
In the social sense, it means finding ways to interact with others in a way that might be new, or once again, familiar. Never one for sports, I've recently found myself throwing around a football or (attempting) to shoot hoops. After a long meeting or a full day of lectures it relieves stress in a way that I hadn't naturally gravitated to in the past. In doing so, I’ve found myself connecting with people in a different way. If you want to see what I mean, bring a basketball to work one day and setup a net. Watch the smile on someone’s face when they make a shot. It’s why ad agencies have ping pong tables and the EA campus has a lawn for soccer.
The way we interact with the people around us define our lives. The relationship we have with ourselves is the one that matters most. If we allow ourselves to explore the things we enjoy, we can find ways to live a life that doesn’t just fulfil the socially constructed picture of adult life. If we can remove the pressure of judgement and allow ourselves the opportunity to explore, we would see that playing is just as important at 30 as it was when we were 5. Sometimes all it takes is allowing ourselves to be silly to figure the toughest challenges out.