Game talkNew Theory: People Need to Play More

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Apr 162009
 

Did you know there is an American Journal of Play? Me neither. Anyway, apparently there’s a new theory published there that boils down to “play more!” And specifically, engage in free-form social play, non-competitive stuff, because (the theory says) it’s how hunter-gatherer societies tended to play.

Gray figures hunter-gatherer children in early human history developed into cooperative adults with the help of a type of play similar to that which once characterized American children’s summers and after-school hours in contemporary culture. This play is freely chosen, age-mixed, and, because it is not adult-organized, non-competitive, he explained. This “free play” is distinct from leisure pursuits such as video games, watching TV, or structured extracurricular activities and sports.

Of course, plenty of video games do in fact provide this style of play, though it can be drowned out by the constant emphasis on numerical achievements.

  11 Responses to “New Theory: People Need to Play More”

  1. Thanks for the link!

  2. I really ought to go read thee article before commenting, but just to pick a nit… Whoever gave the author the idea that kids are non-competitive in the absence of adults? They may not necessarily come up with a complex scoring framework, but you can bet there is a lot less formally structured competition going on.

  3. “The Lord of the Flies” wasnt on the authors reading list?;)

    Mob – 1 Piggy – 0

    😉

  4. “though it can be drowned out by the constant emphasis on numerical achievements.”

    And for a moment there, I thought you were talking about twitter.

    But seriously, it seems reasonable to say that we (people who care about writing and reading comments on blogs) tend toward competitive play because we are no longer a hunter-gatherer society?

    And still seriously, the idea of social play seems important when new online communities are forming in order to help them support each other until a point where competitive play might be useful to the continuation of the community (helping people find experts and mentors or a certain quality of created content).

  5. I remember when I was a kid, we did a lot of what we’d now call RP today. Cowboys & I/n/d/i/a/n/s/ Native Americans, superheroes, etc. It was very much like LARP, complete with OOC planning and arguing.

  6. Of course, plenty of video games do in fact provide this style of play

    Well, I suppose some online communities could come close to free play, But uh, videogames? Examples, Raph. Provide some examples.

  7. LittleBigPlanet, Sims, NobyNobyBoy? The social aspect often happens online or on a couch, but in terms of free play, non-competitive entertainment, there are many more examples…

  8. Hmm… I guess that depends on what you think of as “free play”. I think Sims has too much structure to it and doesn’t allow enough improvisation to be truly free play. (I haven’t played the PS3 games) I think MOOs are the closest we get to “free play” in games, but are they games? *shrugs*

  9. All these toys. Who can sit around and not play???

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnw3TQwPEOg

    A long time ago far far away a group of geeks decided they just had to go for it for the children and the fun of doing it.

  10. I know little Cheeta and his friends were always good little chimps, until that mean ol’ adult Tarzan showed up. Then he introduced us to score keeping in Banana Boink, and that’s when all hell broke loose with the territorial thing and all.

    Seems that theories based on a complete lack of evidence can be thrown in where they aren’t needed, just for some odd irrelevance. Typically Homo sapien. Neanderthal was more grounded.

    Pan

  11. Hmm… I guess that depends on what you think of as “free play”.

    I think MOOs are the closest we get to “free play” in games, but are they games? *shrugs*

    Unfair, Ola. You can’t definitionally make them mutually exclusive and then ask for inclusive examples.

    Personally, I think of Cosmic Encounter, Diplomacy or Munchkins. It is very strictly structured, and intentionally designed to be difficult to win on your own. But the competition has never felt sincere, and the nuance of cooperation feels more interesting. That could just be my gaming groups, though.

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