[This post is taken from the introduction to the book we’re making, “The Power of Play – Voices from the Play Community]
Our ambitions are high, but we also realize that this book is but a very small contribution to a very big field, where practitioners and scholars have been trying to understand the joyful nature of play for hundreds, thousands of years. This is neither the beginning of the journey, nor the end, but rather somewhere in between. We wish to approach the topic with respect and humility, well aware that we can, at most, help take a small step forward, but small steps are all we can ever take.
As long as we take them together, they will matter.
That brings us back to the play community. This is key, really. Cultivating a diverse play community where people are actively participating to explore and spread play is probably our best bet to foster a strong movement towards a more playful world. When we know for certain that we are not alone that other people feel the same urge to be playful, then we can easier muster the courage that is necessary to challenge the non-playful structures around us.
“But we are a play community, and playing the way we do, for fun, for everyone’s fun, in public – our fun little community becomes something else. “To those who want to be seen as people who embrace life, embrace each other, embrace spontaneity, freedom, laughter; we are an alternative. An invitation. We play as if the game isn’t important. The rules aren’t important. As if the only really important thing is each other” (DeKoven, 2016)
It is only loosely held together, the ties are invisible, and like the magic circle, there are no rigid borders or boundaries around the play community. Nobody owns it and no one ever can, as it belongs solely to the participants as a shared resource. This play community we’re speaking of here exists on a global scale, but it’s made up of many, many smaller communities.
It’s fragile, in a way, and it will only thrive, evolve and grow if it is cared for and nurtured. If we leave it alone, without love and attention, it will wither away. This community is not driven by or particularly interested in external rewards or markers, but by finding and creating meaning, challenges, resistance, adventures, smiles and joy. It is exactly like play, fueled by an inner “continuation desire”:
“We desire to keep doing it, and the pleasure of the experience drives that desire. We find ways to keep it going. If something threatens to stop the fun, we improvise new rules or conditions so that the play doesn’t have to end. And when it is over, we want to do it again” (Brown, 2009)
The people in the play community play with each other, of course, but it is also a space for reflection and conversation. Conversations between people, sure, but also between ideas, thoughts, things that are written and things that are spoken; Exchanges, interactions, meetings of minds, ambitions and dreams.
Seeing the play community as a whole is relevant, as it transcends the limitations of any one person or organization, who can only do so much to improve the conditions for play to thrive in society. As a global community, on the other hand, we have the potential and power to utterly transform the role of play in the world.
Like the people in this book have come together, guided by their passion for play, let us do more to cultivate the global play community. It welcomes researchers and practitioners , people who work with play and people who are merely curious, even people who don’t consider themselves playful. If you think yourself of the latter category beware, play might change your life. It already has for many of us.
Play is immensely powerful when it creates deep connections between people, even strangers. We have probably all experienced this, and we know the feeling of barriers suddenly falling away. When we play, we share the responsibility, and we need to be present in the moment, right here, right now. You are open to the world, aware, listening, anticipating, embracing what the other person brings. This is rarely more visible than in the eyes of people playing with each other. The way they shine, the pure joy, this is as close to magic as it gets. In this sense, play becomes a demonstration of empathy, an exploration of being together in ways that respect us all. Play is a lesson in humanity, a gentle reminder of all the things we have in common across age groups, nationalities, religions, socio-cultural backgrounds and other differences that usually keep us apart.
Let’s rise to the occasion, and do what play does best: let’s connect deeply, let’s see across the barriers and differences, let’s step into each other’s lives to join forces in the fight for a more playful world.