Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Play is Everywhere

On my way back from GDC in San Francisco last week, I had a layover in the Minneapolis airport. Walking through the terminal to find my new gate, I came across something I hadn't seen before. It was an advertisement installation from the Traveler's Group that was interactive. I found video of the installation on YouTube, which you can watch here. This should save me from having to explain how the installation works.

What amazed me was what I saw people doing with the advertisement. They were playing. They were running across the screens to change the shape. They were hooting and hollering and laughing. Not children mind you, but rather grown-ups. Some would play as they walked by, waving their hands to break up the image but never stopping or slowing down, as if they had only a moment for play in their busy day of flying to wherever their destination was. Others would stop and try different things, such as trying to destroy the entire umbrella in one swoop, inventing games from the play. They would try to break the rules of the system, as if something so simple would break easily. Others would try to figure out how it all worked. Even those who walked past unwittingly were participants of play. They caused the image to change for others, causing laughter or excitement. Who would think something so simple could be so interesting and entertaining?

This made me think about the nature of play and how it really is ingrained in us as humans and how we can find play anywhere. It's easy when you are engulfed in video games at all moments of your life to forget about play. It's what we did when we were kids, chasing each other in the park. It's how Calvinball was invented. It's why tag was created and how I scraped my knee countless times as a child. Play exists without video games; video games do not exist without play.

Play is around you right now. There are things on your desk you can play with. There are toys in your garage you can play with. There are sticks outside you can play with. We need to never forget this. Play is what teaches us about new parts of ourselves. Play is what helps bring out our inner-child and keep us youthful. Play is beautiful and inspiring, and it rarely lets you down because play is whatever you make of it.

It was nice to have that put in perspective this past weekend. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I forget that there was this world of play and games long before computers came along. I shall not forget about play anytime soon, however. Play will always remind me about itself, even if I forget. There is one simple reason for this.

Play is everywhere.


  1. Play is interesting. Eric Zimmerman wrote about how dogs do not have the ability to make medical breakthroughs, create massive sky scrapers, create a nuclear weapon. Yet they are able to understand play, with other dogs, with the ball in your hand. Play is embedded inside almost every being! Sadly humans seem to repress it.

  2. I have seen these interactive doodads at a local Children's museum. Butterflies flying around that will land on your shadow if you stay there long enough. All sorts of great stuff.

    It's kind of warm in a way that they make their way into adult's world. :)

  3. Homo Ludens: The Study of the Play Element of Culture is really up your alley if you're interested in this concept. I'm currently working on a paper that pulls a lot from this book if you find it interesting and have any questions. The basic premise is:

    All of society is formed on the activities our earliest ancestors did for fun. The basic nature of their fun became rite, became the way in which we grew. The origin of language, the joke, the riddle, is another form of play that can be traced back before history even began.

    The nature of play in current society is that of disenchantment. Our definition of play is that of Plato's, it is a thing for animals and children. Because it isn't something that an adult would do, we never talk about it. However, the play spirit is all around us...and in modern society it is in danger.

    Hope that helps! It is a very very dense read if you decide to go for it. Good luck!

  4. Thanks for the recommendation - that sounds like an interesting book to read and I will try to check it out as soon as I get out of crunch mode, and back into what I call "learning mode".

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