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The Play's the Thing!
by Sara Diamond
The play's the thing!
- William Shakespeare
Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested as play
- D.W. Winnicott, child psychiatrist
Play is the door to creativity, to openness, to pure delight. Play is loose, continual, and repetitive. It is fast, tight, and forward thinking. Play spins us round and round - we are present and in our bodies. Children play alone, with serious, purposeful attention to a fantasy as its layers unfold. Watch a child at play: they cannot warrant interruption. Play is where we form our imagination to include and exclude others.
The mice will play when the cat's away. Learning to play in the face of - or after - personal or political repression can be a means of re-enactment, cleansing, and resistance. It can be the very "transition to freedom", as the Russian artist Kandinsky once said: "Spontaneity or personal initiative is one of the happiest sides to a life that has been pressed into rigid forms."
Play is a method of uncovering. Mathematicians "love to play", says Sha Xin Wei, a theoretical mathematician and responsive environment designer whose work has linked artists' improvisation with speculative mathematical research. Another mathematician recently told me of days spent happily building little cardboard structures, squishing them together and refiguring them, feeling her way toward an equation of invisible dimensions. The challenge of making art is filled with play.
Play, like art, is sometimes most free when given boundaries, or forms around which it can coalesce. Hence this issue's focus on games. Games have defined rules: they place limits on play and add goals. While they are built around simple rules, games are intricate structures brought to life by the act of playing. Play to win! To play a game is to gain understanding of human dynamics, intentions, and rhythms. Games engage entire communities through ritual, adventure, and competition.
Make play not war!
Sara Diamond is Editor-in-Chief of HorizonZero.