games and play

Something I’ve been giving a lot of thought: cultural concepts of “games” versus those of “play”. Often when I talk about my project and use the word “play”, I understand that in many minds play=games. They see them as the same thing — and culturally I think there is a lot of truth to this. Children’s time, in general, is highly structured for vast expanses of their days. *Structured* play = games. Adults’ ideas of play = games. Obviously I’m over-generalizing here, but I think it’s a useful way to think about this distinction. So what I’ve been pondering is: what is the value of games? Of structured play? Yesterday I was privileged to see and experience a game-master at work. Rick is the leader of a team who takes groups of people through a “High Adventures Challenge Course” here in Iowa City. The man is a pro. He is a consummate leader and intuiter of energy and needs of groups of people, young people in particular. The group I was allowed to participate with included junior high and high school students and their adult mentors. Much of the day consisted of playing games together as a group. And yet it wasn’t gym class and it wasn’t sports training. These were a different species of games. These games required no athletic skill (luckily for me!) and yet got everyone moving. Most served a specific purpose in the context of the day, and yet they weren’t rigid, predictable or didactic — they were open, invited creativity, cooperation and compassion, and prepared everyone for the big challenge at the end of the day, which was the “high” (literally!) course, where those who chose to walked across a steel cable approximately 30 feet above the ground the help of a harness and a single rope. Wow. This activity has all the hallmarks of play: apparently without purpose, voluntary, inherent attraction, freedom from time, diminished consciousness of self, improvisational potential (I hesitated with this one because there are definitely guidelines to stay within when on the rope course for the sake of safety, but every single person climbed and walked across in a way that worked for them, all of them improvising the method they felt good about, felt safe, and got them across. One young man really impressed me by climbing back up onto the cable after slipping off twice) and continuation desire. Absolutely. Well I could write about this all day…What are your thoughts on games vs. play? Any experiences to share?


2 thoughts on “games and play

  1. “Is this a game? Yes, and a game that must be played to the finish!” – Hay Fever, Noel Coward.

    My brother is currently organizing/running a neighborhood-wide board game in Shorewood, Wisconsin. They just started. I thought you might enjoy the concept.

  2. that is so cool! i’ve been reading “the new games book”, the original published in 1976. i had never heard of it before and it’s really amazing. they staged these huge community game events, no hierarchy, rules as needed, everyone participates. my immediate thought was every community needs this, right now. blow up the whole athlete/spectator format, everyone is a player

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