Playfulness or Bust! How Fun Will Help us Survive.

Playfulness or Bust! How Fun Will Help us Survive.

The Importance of Creative Play

We here at the Cardboard Teck Instantute ask ourselves, “Can we save the world and have fun doing it?” Is there a way to design a structure of play, (call it a game) that will satisfy both the urge to learn, explore, engineer new realities as well as bring enjoyment to ourselves and others and repair the effects of a broken society?

When we are in play, we are in the mode where inefficient means and auxiliary energy are employed to get to an unspecified or specified goal.  Obstacles as adversaries are accepted and not avoided, as they are necessary to the impediment of the goal, which is the main function of the game.  The purpose of these inefficient means could be attributed to “preparation for the unexpected”, as stated in a report called “Mammalian Play: Training for the Unexpected” by biologists Marek Spink, Ruth Newberry, and Marc Bekoff.  In this paper, it is argued that excess energy, devoted to play at a young age, help mammalian species prepare for unlikelihoods.  The muscular contortions, the purposeful falling, the rough-and-tumble, the awkward climbing upon unnecessarily rough patches of terrain, all serve to bring about a catalogue of skills that may be fun at present, but may in the future be necessary.  The hunting and the hunted animals of the wild frolic because frolicking can be afforded, it brings joy, and trains the brain for what may happen next.

Thus, play is a survival skill.  Play is wisdom accumulation.  And it is fun.  It is entertaining to listen to biologists describe fun in their own terms:

“ is emotionally exciting, (perhaps even thrilling, though not intensely frightening) and rewarding, maybe even pleasurable, while at the same time being relaxed.  We suggest that this combination of affective attributes is unique to play, producing the complex emotional state that is referred to as “having fun” in human folk psychology.”

This complex emotional state of “having fun” beckons us human folk to engage in more fun as our situation in the world gets more complex.  Resource management is paramount.  Survival is key.  Empathy is critical.  “The Machine” must unplug if we are going to share this experience for real.

Education Through Games Enhances Learning

All of these scenarios and mechanics may be practiced in play and even more directly through games.  I can think of several board games that employ cooperative mechanics to encourage players to work together to solve global crises.  (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert) This type of play, on an adult level, may come in handy when it’s time to take on the real thing.  If we think of our survival as a species as a game, we can live with some amount of strategic joy in shared communities, rather than competitive states of war, of which I think we’ve had quite enough.

Stuart Brown, M.D., believes that play exercises the brain to give us ideas, and with this exercise, we gain confidence.  Play brings “lightheartedness, empathy, optimism, hope for the future, flexibility, and adaptability.”  He says,

“Play set the stage for cooperative socialization.  It nourishes the roost of trust, empathy, caring, and sharing. When we see another human in distress, that distress becomes ours.  Games, sports, and free play between kids set the foundation for our understanding of fairness and justice.”

Just kids, Dr. Brown?  I think all of us could use a little more play in our world. The kind of play that builds connections between us, supports our mutual understanding, and makes us more empathetic - active, tactile, imaginative play.  On your mark, get set....

Tilt the Future!


Brown, Stuart L., and Christopher C. Vaughan. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Avery, 2009. Print.   

Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972. Print.

Spinka, Marek, Ruth C. Newberry, and Marc Bekoff. "Mammalian Play: Training for the Unexpected." Q REV BIOL The Quarterly Review of Biology 76.2 (2001): 141. Web.

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