angels, n. ordinary people creativity, n. being yourself danger, n. boredom, blind habit, addiction, workaholism happiness, n. gratitude for being alive laughter, n. the noise of a person fully alive magic, n. reality
This most playworthy site is written by David.
"David is a part-time student, part-time freelance writer, part-time peace activist, and full-time play maker.
"He is married to a beautiful lady called Siona, hasn’t eaten meat for three years (except for one minor disaster in a kebab shop), and rides a folding bicycle.
She calls herself Danna Bananas. Clicking through her online store, also called Danna Bananas, is an adventure in whimsy. She has assembled a collection of some of the most novel novelties I've ever encountered on one site - page after page of wacky, funny, laugh-provoking, and often genuinely playworthy tchotchkes.
Take, for example, Airfork One, "made of sleek stainless steel encased in food-grade, dishwasher-safe silicone. Just the thing to bring those mashed potatoes and peas in for a safe landing...Packed in a recyclable clear PET box." It's a fun thing. It's a functional thing. It is sensitive to the realities of child-rearing - embodying a game that hundreds of thousands of parents have played with their babies as they often desperately try to get them to finish their food.
It is for these reasons, and others manifesting themselves throughout her website, that Ms. Bananas joins the ranks of the select few, to be known now and forever more (or less) as a Defender of the Playful.
Danna Bananas, DotP, has managed to share with us her gift of playfulness. She offers us and the rest of the known universe access to silly, sometimes remarkably inexpensive (c.f. Finger Twister), sometimes the semi-miraculous (c.f. the bouncing-on-water Waboba Ball), and often the actually somewhat practical (c. also f. the Banana Handle. Again I quote: "...very appealing non-slip handle grip! You’ve never seen a chimpanzee burn himself on a hot pan, have you? Of course not! That's because Banana Handle's heat-resistant silicone construction protects hands, both human and primate. Slide the ripe yellow peel onto any pan handle and you are fully protected, hands down.") - inviting laughter, paving the way for play. And US residents don't pay tax! What more, I ask you, could you ask?
"Play and humor were not just means of adding fun to their lives," according to (Boston College developmental psychologist Peter) Gray. "They were means of maintaining the band’s existence - means of promoting actively the egalitarian attitude, intense sharing, and relative peacefulness for which hunter-gatherers are justly famous and upon which they depended for survival."
This theory has implications for human development in today’s world, said Gray, who explains that social play counteracts tendencies toward greed and arrogance, and promotes concern for the feelings and wellbeing of others.
"It may not be too much of a stretch," says Gray, "to suggest that the selfish actions that led to the recent economic collapse are, in part, symptoms of a society that has forgotten how to play."
"The intention of playing tennis to improve one's health is not playful in this sense, because it is motivated by the expectation of some future good. In contrast, persons who enjoy the sheer pleasure of competing with others, for instance, exhibit a genuinely playful attitude. Exercising may also help to upgrade our health, but this anticipated benefit is not here the principal reason for the action. Viewed from a biological viewpoint, it makes sense to ascribe functional advantages to physical exercise, but these advantages are not the agent's primary motivation. People who play do so mainly because they treasure the experience of intense immersion that it uniquely affords. When pursued in a purely playful spirit, the ludic experience of tension, uncertainty or release is its own justification, not a means to some subsequent end."
I am always on the lookout for signs of playfulness - on the Web, in the world. Recently, I found this:
"Life is playfulness...we need to play so that we can rediscover the magical around us."
It was a quote, attributed to Flora Colao.
I was so drawn by this poetic and perceptive connection between playfulness and the sense of the magical that I had to find out more about the author of the quote. Fortunately, with a little computer-assisted magicalness, I found her on Facebook. I wrote her. She replied:
"In 1991, I was asked to write an essay about the meaning of life for Life Magazine when they were doing a book called the Reflections in words and pictures on Why We Are Here, The Meaning of Life. I am a social worker and a therapist by profession. Most of my work at that time was with traumatized children (children who were abused, were victims of or witnessed crimes, had terrible losses or who were in accidents). My work experience was that play therapy was the most healing thing for those children. When I thought about my own life experience as well as my work experience I came to the conclusion that life is playfulness and wrote from that perspective."
What a conclusion to reach. What a powerful truth to have come to. Life is playfulness. When we are playful, we are most alive. When we are playful, we rediscover the magical, we are ourselves magicians.
Jonathan Follett asks: "What makes a person want to use one particular digital product or service over its competitor? What makes one user experience more engaging, interesting, or compelling than another?"
He answers for us: "An often overlooked, under-appreciated, and rarely measured component of user experience is playfulness."
Yes, he's talking about "user experience" and playfulness specifically in the context of the design of digital services like Twitter and Flickr.
He defines playfulness in the user experience "...as those elements of a digital design that engage people’s attention or involve them in an activity for recreation, amusement, or creative enjoyment."
"Creative enjoyment." The lad's a definite phrase-turner.
In his article he lists four handy criteria for measuring playability:
lots of small rewards and positive feedback for taking action
no negative consequences for experimentation
the ability to take someone else’s work and build on it
and my favorite:
"Facebook," he exemplifies, "has perfected digital social interaction for no good reason other than pure fun. All playful applications should have a component of interactive silliness."
Bless his perceptive heart: Creative enjoyment. Frivolous interaction. Interactive silliness. How else could one explain the forces that draw us here to find each other?
There's a photo-sharing site devoted entirely to LEGO creations. Given my late-life interest in all things LEGO, I was particularly struck by this instantiation of the extension of plastic play into the e-state. You make your LEGO thing. You take a digital picture of it. Upload it. And it becomes virtually permanent, a thing you made, for fun, out of LEGO - the very same LEGOs you are now using to make something else.
This connection between private and shared spaces redefines any form of art/play. Sandbox cityscapes, bubblebath buildings all can be collected, disseminated, documented, celebrated. It's a fundamental change in the nature and experience of fun.
During play, children also increase their social competence and emotional maturity. Smilansky and Shefatya (1990) contend that school success largely depends on children’s ability to interact positively with their peers and adults. Play is vital to children’s social development. It enables children to do the following:
Practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills by negotiating roles, trying to gain access to ongoing play, and appreciating the feelings of others (Spodek & Saracho, 1998).
Respond to their peers’ feelings while waiting for their turn and sharing materials and experiences (Sapon-Shevin, Dobbelgere, Carrigan, Goodman, & Mastin, 1998; Wheeler, 2004).
Experiment with roles of the people in their home, school, and community by coming into contact with the needs and wishes of others (Creasey, Jarvis, & Berk, 1998; Wheeler, 2004).
Experience others’ points of view by working through conflicts about space, materials, or rules positively (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990; Spodek & Saracho, 1998).
Unfortunately, all this wonderful documentation is about children before the age of 5. I guess we have to speculate about what the importance of play for adults. See, for example, Patricia von Papstein's detailed discussion of Integral Play.
Without probing the origins of the Cup-Passing Hand-Clapping game, or attempting to fathom the apparently widespread dissemination of the aforementioned, let us rather merrily contemplate the game itself and the myraid wonders thereof. It is, after all, a collaborative game. It is played by teens, even. It is clearly pointless. And most obviously fun.
Here's a version that starts out slowly enough for those of us who are less conceptually coordinated to believe that this is a feat well within our reach. Then there's a far more sophisticated version, should you and your friends for some reason think you've actually mastered the "regular" version. On the other hand, if you find yourself with only one other person to play with, contemplate the potential hilarity embedded in this two person variation.
All of which is by way of introduction to the amazingly sophisticated world of cup passing games. There are those that are ostensibly for kids, and those clearly for all of us. There's Hakasot, a Hebrew cup passing game. There's Estray Bonajour, a cup passing game that can be played without cups, and is in a language that has passed beyond arcane. And there's this collection of what one might call "extreme cup passing" games.
Then there are the knee tapping games. All in all, maybe hundreds of such ilk, none of which is played competitively, none for score, each and all for the simple and wonderful fun of seeing how complicated we can make things for each other.
Surely there's a message in all this about the human condition. And even more surely, here's a way to have fun without anyone losing, anywhere, with styrofoam cups, or shoes, or nothing more than a shared sense of play.
"The importance of play to children’s healthy development and learning has been documented beyond question by research, some of which is summarized in this report. Yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education as a whole. We believe that the stifling of play has dire consequences—not only for children but for the future of our nation. This report is meant to bring broad public attention to the crisis in our kindergartens and to spur collective action to reverse the damage now being done."
Crisis in the kindergartens! We have to tell people that kids should be allowed to play in kindergarten?! What hath we wrought, I ask you. Wrought-wise, what hath we?
Ramses Pyramid, Reiner Knizia, Microfigs, all part of the LEGO Games System
See the LEGO Games System dice (actually, it's a die, but they don't like using that word - sounds, I guess, too fatalistic)? See Reiner Knizia's name on the game (you know, probably the world's most ubiquitous game designer - the guy who must've invented at least 500 games by now)? See that teeny tiny playing piece - a.k.a. "microfig?" See some of the excitement this is already generating amongst the LEGO-loving masses? Even before they have experienced the game itself? Even though they haven't had a chance to design their own unique, personalized variations? Or seen even some of the many more games that make up the LEGO Games System?
Does this explain my excitement about having even a small part in the development of this concept? Does this in any way account for my delight in being able to share this all with you at last?
"...lessons I have learned from computer games...The first...is echoed by kids who talk about "hard fun" and they don't mean it's fun in spite of being hard. They mean it's fun because it's hard. Listening to this and watching kids work at mastering games confirms what I know from my own experience: learning is essentially hard; it happens best when one is deeply engaged in hard and challenging activities. The game-designer community has understood (to its great profit) that this is not a cause for worry. The fact is that kids prefer things that are hard, as long as they are also interesting."
Allow me to introduce the business card of the CEO of LEGO Corp.
So there I was, the evening after the LEGO Idea Conference and my two Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympics workshops, at a private dinner for LEGO management, where I meet the actual CEO of the vast entity of LEGO itself. And I am at least beside myself with delight. Me, standing beside myself, neither of me having ever met a CEO of such a large company who was as visionary, as dedicated, as genuine, as unassuming, as deep thinking - who, by the way, has led the company to its most successful year, in the very same year that most toy companies and homeowners have had their least.
Sure, sure, I'm biased. I'm doing some consulting for LEGO, and, yes, I got to be part of a truly inspiring event where presenter after presenter, including the CEO, delivered genuinely visionary insights into children and play and art and music and innovation and creativity and, well, fun. Like, for example, the concept of Systematic Creativity - a philosophy that embraces LEGO products, purpose and management (see the sidebar on this page for a more detailed explanation), and artist Olafur Eliasson's exploration of the connections between art and science - both of which are characteristics of LEGO toys.
So, yes, you could say I was dazzled. And stayed dazzled all the way through dinner, and then, afer dinner, in the few minutes I had to thank him for letting me be part of all this, he gives me his business card - a LEGO "minifig" (that link, by the way, will take you to a site that allows you to construct your own virtual minifig). And, I have to tell you, if there had been a hole in the floor, I would have joyfully fallen through it.
Sure, sure, I want to have business cards just like his. But, see, the crucial piece here is what it means for there to be a toy company where playfulness comes from the very top. Let me tell you. I've worked with some of the biggest, and this dedication to playfulness is rare, very, very rare. And it's not just the CEO's business card that expresses the core value of playfulness. It's everywhere at LEGO. Not just LEGO corporate, but embedded in the product, the purpose, and all the people who work together to make it all work, together.
Writing about an event involving Palestinian and Israeli children that was led by the Ultimate Peace initiative - an organization devoted to teaching kids of different cultures to play the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, Al Jazeera reporter Diana Worman notes:
"A sporting initiative like this will always attract its critics, especially at such a sensitive time in such a sensitive place, but the ultimate aim of this week is to allow kids to be kids, and to integrate, and learn with each other and to have fun."
So there they are in Israel, making this incredible thing happen between Palestinian and Israeli children, where they are bridging a cultural chasm, and at the same time being responsible, together, for keeping the game fair - and the big thing, the main thing is that they are having fun together.
Which reminds me about something I learned during Day 2 and 3 in Denmark, at the Lego Idea Conference and a follow-up meeting of Lego designers. I was there to lead participants in my Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympiad. And, as you know, the game is jam-packed with "teachable moments" about teamwork and creativity, resourcefulness and innovation. And I learned from the participants that what really mattered, every time I played it, had nothing to do with the copiousity of opportunities to gather meaningful insights, and everything to do with how much sheer, all-embracing fun it allowed them to have together.
So we introduced each other to ourselves, and we shmoozed fascinatingly, and then, right in the middle of the Hotel Legoland lounge, we got up and played actual games.
Mr. Finlayson, it so happens, is from the Bahams, where he conducts programs he calls "Festival in the Workplace." His theory is that there is much for businesses to learn about the nature of work, just by recognizing the amazing amount of dedication and devotion that goes in to producing a Carnivale, all without salary or job title, all for fun. So, after we played my current most favorite of pointless games, Sound and Fury, he taught us one of his - a children's circle dance called Brown Girl.
And then we sat down, exhausted in glee, feeling as if we had known each other at least half a lifetime, and shmoozed some more,, until someone noticed that I was fighting myself to stay awake, and we hugged, and we took this picture, and we left each other amidst echoes of probably unforgettable delight.