I’ve written before about the notion that Play is in some way a simulation of more serious activities in the real world, but expressed discomfort with the notion that that makes it a ‘dry run’. For one thing, loss in a game does hurt; for another we can be playful about very serious things in real life.
Something I’ve been wondering about lately is what if we conceive of Play as failing, safely. So, rather than Play being a dry-run, separate from the world, where we achieve both wins and losses, it’s actually intimately to do with failure – in the real world or not.
This might seem absurd: clearly the joy of a game is in winning, and surely a game is about joy?
I wouldn’t want to be so dismissive of this notion as to say winning is only important to some people, blessed with a Competitor play personality. I think wanting to win a game is a natural and often necessary part of getting the most out of activities with deliberately set-up conditions for winning and losing. Of course, not all play is a game, but I think we can generally talk about successes and failures in relation to most forms of play.
The key, though, to return to failure and its special place, is that winning isn’t everything because play has constraints. It would be easy to win at football – if that was all that mattered – just by knocking out the other players and carrying the ball into the goal. Repeatedly. But instead for Play we deliberately set up hurdles that hamper easy success.
We truly play when we enjoy the experience of failing – but not unrecoverably. Play soon becomes a real drag when we know there’s no way back! But plain sailing is equally unsatisfying.
We can easily take a similar approach to the more serious aspects of life. When we don’t get a promotion we want, when we get a bad mark for an essay, when the boiler breaks, we have a choice. We can wallow and see it as pure disaster, or we can salute the recoverability and be grateful that we have future chances to succeed.
When setbacks become experiments which yield as much data as successes, we are truly playing life as a game.
Yes, we revel in those moments when everything goes to plan: but that’s not enjoying play, that’s just being happy that we got what we wanted. That’s single-player football where you carry the ball to its destination with ease.
Let’s revel more in the failures, salute them, beg for more. We don’t want total disaster, hence the necessity of safety.
In a game of Hide and Seek, it would be no fun if you were never found, but the inevitable loss is very bearable because you can always recover from it. A lesson for life!