Playing with Pieces: Some parts of play

Students in Dr. Nicole Pfannenstiel’s summer Games and Writing class crafted blog posts exploring play theory. Over the next several weeks, we will share their theory posts in this space to offer a variety of perspectives on play, games, and writing, written by current graduate students in the MA and M.Ed. English programs.


Playing with Pieces: Some parts of play

by: George Botelho

Thinking of the act of play, it is difficult to boil such a complicated concept down and understand what it is. When you add playfulness into the mix it becomes even harder. I want to talk about both these concepts and how they are used as a tool to understand the world around us.

The three parts of play to think about are disruption, creation, and expression. These are in my opinion essential to understanding play and playfulness. Play is disruptive. It takes a situation or space and disrupts its environment. Theorist Johan Huizinga talks about this being a “magic circle” of sorts where play controls its space and the rules of play are what keep it alive in that space.

Play is also considered an act of creation, and essentially destruction. The act of play creates itself out of nothing and continues onwards towards its own demise. Theorist Miguel Sicart says “Play is between the rational pleasures of order and creation and the sweeping euphoria of destruction and rebirth, between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac.

The last piece of the act of play itself is expression. At the core of play is expression and communication. Play allows us to explore and understand the world around us. Think about a toddler or very young child. The primary mode of how each explores the world is through play. Climbing things they shouldn’t climb, trying to figure out how certain items work by appropriating them as toys, using markers as a form of wild expression off paper. Younger children are a prime example of how play is meant to help us understand and explore our world and what is possible in it. The effects of play being so individual and the fact that is helps us express ourselves shows that play is a deeply personal thing that we all do for personal reasons.

An extension of the act of play is the attitude of playfulness. Playfulness still has the three pieces of play that I highlighted above but use them to a much less extreme degree. Playfulness is the attitude of play that can be applied to non-play situations. Playfulness acquires spaces and items for its use much like play but still respects the original purpose of those spaces and items. So, a good example would be athletes doing things on the field of their sport that aren’t necessarily the right thing to win a game, such as a touchdown dance in American football.

Playfulness creates itself but is limited to where and when it is being applied. It doesn’t completely transform a space like the act of play does, and unlike play there are little to no rules applied with playfulness. It is however a large act of individual expression, allowing us to make sense of the world and put our own bit of ourselves into it.

I want to leave on the words of Sicart who but it best about play and playfulness. He says “We play because we are human, and we need to understand what makes us human,18 not in an evolutionary or cognitive way but in a humanistic way. Play is the force that pulls us together.
It is a way of explaining the world, others, and ourselves. Play is expressing ourselves—who we want to be, or who we don’t want to be. Play is what we do when we are human.”

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