We exist in a world full of serious and important things to occupy every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment. Trust me, I feel the weight of it. I’ve got a pregnant wife, three boys four and under, a full-time job, and a house to take care of. There is plenty of pressure for me to seize every moment in order to accomplish everything that needs to be done. But the busier my life has become the more I see the value in making some time to play.
Yes, this article is about the value of board games as play, but I want to focus more on the play part and less on the board games part. I don’t think I need to convince you that board games are play. So instead, I just want to convince you to have some kind of intentional play in your life, no matter how busy it is. If that means board games for you, great! If not, great! Modern board games are neither the only or the ultimate way to play but they do bring a lot to the table – pun absolutely intended.
WHAT IS PLAY?
First, let’s dive into what play is. On the surface it seems simple – we see children do it all the time. The problem is one person’s play is another’s torture so we need to find a way to characterize it generally so it can be applied across people and interests. This is what I have gleaned from my reading on the subject.
Play is voluntarily being caught up in and enjoying an experience for its own sake where the outcomes, benefits, or costs of the outside world are not motivating factors.
Let me briefly clarify – I think this should be assumed but I won’t take the chance of being misunderstood. Play is not intentionally ignoring the outside world to your detriment or others. As an adult, our primary responsibilities come first. We have to know when to play and when not to, but when you can, allow yourself to temporarily suspend the outside world and its responsibilities and troubles to do something for the pure joy of doing it.
With this broad definition and clarification in mind, let’s look at some examples of activities that can be considered play. Play could be reading your favorite book. It could look like exercise. Roughhousing a bit with your kids, or sitting down with your favorite person to watch a movie. Maybe mountain climbing is the way you unwind. Drawing, sculpting, dance or any other kind of art you can think of will be play for some. Honestly, this could go on and on since what is considered play will vary from person to person. Anything we love to lose ourselves in for the sake of the experience is play.
WHY IS PLAY IMPORTANT?
Now for the big question: why? Why should adults make time play at all? Play is the realm of children. The world is a busy place full of serious stuff to accomplish. Work needs attention, home needs attention, family needs attention, friends need attention. Who has time for play? Lets look at some reasons to make time for play.
When there is always something important riding on your success or failure, stress begins to pile up – even if the activity is fun. Stress continues to wind us up and we need ways to unwind. We need a stress relief valve. That relief valve is play. Some use a substance to help them unwind. True play can help you relax without the need for a substance.
Play helps us relate to ourselves and others and maintain our social well-being. In the context of play, without outside world pressures we can see who we are and who others are more clearly. It gives us a safe place detached from responsibilities to build friendships. It gives us moments of joy together that can bond us more closely together and help us understand one another.
Even if our play seems solitary, like reading a book, it encourages us to share that experience with others. Why do you think book clubs exist? To gather around that chosen way of play and experience it together. It drives us to want to connect with people who also love that activity.
Play feeds your creativity. The detachment from outside pressures allows our minds to think outside the confines of our normal daily lives. When I am building Legos with my sons my creativity really comes out. I don’t feel bound by any important decisions. I am not worried about making mistakes. I am just playing. When you take away the pressure to do everything right you unleash creativity and learn how to do that more in your daily life.
Play is shown to stimulate the growth of neurons and create new neural connections. This is brain exercise, pure and simple. It helps us learn to think in different ways as we try new things and figure out ways around a problem. It challenges our current thinking patterns which can help prove out our current process or realize we need a new one.
A lack of play in children and adults can result in behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression. As an even more extreme example, in Stuart Brown’s book, Play, he shows a link between mass murderers and a lack of play as children.
I find that the more pressures of life come at me, the more important some intentional play is. I also find that I am less likely to allow myself to do it. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, where real life has completely taken over, where you won’t allow yourself some downtime because “something might come up”, please force yourself out of that pattern. Find some kind of play you can fit into your tight schedule and do it. You will feel refreshed and better able to handle all the primary stuff of life.
Board games are one of my chosen outlets of play. They offer me time with family and friends creating new shared experiences. They offer me a place to play with no need to think about outside pressures. They are all about people, fun, and a good challenge. If that sounds like play to you, great! Go play. If not, great! Go find another way to play.
Whatever you do, find some time to play. It’s an oasis in the middle of a busy life.
Further reading on the subject: