The Meaning of Play


Imagine. We’re sat in a field together on a fine summer’s day among friends and I ask you, “How do you play?”

If you find yourself bubbling with a myriad of answers and become increasingly excited just thinking and talking about play, then it’s likely you can play and want to play.

If you start reminiscing how much fun you used to have playing and wish for more play in your life now, then it’s likely you don’t currently play enough but definitely still want to play.

If, on the other hand, you become blocked and need a definitive definition of play before answering the question of “How do you play?”, then it’s possible that…

… You can play but some reason(s) you won’t play (otherwise you would have just started playing by making up answers in order to figure out the meaning of the word “play”).

… Or perhaps you can’t play and won’t play. “Can’t play” in this instance refers to the possibility that you’ve forgotten how to play or may be you never learned how to play in the first place. “Won’t play” means you are unwilling to play even if you knew how.

Play-QuadrantWhat’s do we mean by “play”?

Just as there are more than 70 definitions of intelligence, there are many definitions of play.

Dr Stuart Brown, play researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play defines play as:

  • Seemingly purposeless
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent attraction
  • Time flies by
  • Reduces sense of self-consciousness
  • Potential for improvisation
  • Desire to keep going

I’ve been testing Dr Brown’s definition and have discovered it resonates strongly with a key finding from my own play research: There is no one-size-fits-all definition of play.

After all, we’re individuals. That’s why it’s important we explore what play means to us. For ourselves. And in that exploration, we gain insights into our understanding of play and our relationship with play.

And if we play with our ideas of play for long enough, somewhere along the way, life-challenging and life-changing questions start to crop up such as “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and “What kind of person do I want to become?”

Over to you, My Friend. How do you play? Be you a Play Seeker or Play Skeptic, come along and join us to learn more about play!

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