Play in society

14/05/2009

This is a post in English that covers at least most of the same ground that a previous post covered in Finnish, but is not a translation, so the content may vary. I was working these things when writing the post roleplaying in society over at Cogito, ergo ludo.

In Finnish there are different words for playing as done by children (leikki), playing games (pelaus) and playing an instrument (soitto). When speaking of play I am referring to all of these categories, but mostly to the first one. The definition I use for play and some qualities of it:

  • Play is practiced with a certain attitude of commitment or even zeal; playing is earnest. Serious would obviously be a wrong word for describing all play, but it does fit surprisingly much of it.
  • Play is motivated by itself, rather than some reward (though a reward may be involved and instrumental in starting the activity) or outside pressure.
  • Play is fundemantally honest. Even when play involves trickery (poker, say), everyone is aware of that being the nature of the play, and hence the activity can still be called honest.
  • Playing makes one vulnerable: As one plays in earnest and does so honestly, one can be genuinely hurt and further others notice.

I contrast play with concept of pretending. Some qualities:

  • Pretending is motivated by some outside factor; not having any options or because one (thinks one) would lose face if one were to act in some other manner.
  • Pretending is hence not done with full commitment; it is forced and hence one is just doing what one is told, as opposed to what one wants to do.
  • Pretending is always dishonest, as one must do something one would not like to do.
  • Pretending at least seems to protect one from failures: One can always simply say that one had no chances anyway or one does not care even if one fails or other such justification.

I believe that current society makes play something to hide or do alone, while forcing people to pretend all the time. There is significant social pressure to be normal, whatever that means. There is pressure to not show one’s emotions. Modern society demands that on pretend, and might fail if people stopped doing so. Or maybe not. I’m no visionary.

A good example of how this all works out is school. People are forced in. Many do not find it meaningful; that is, they have to pretend to participate or else play other games, most of which disturb the situation. Those who do find it meaningful; that is, those who can play when studying, typically don’t have much problems, but they are still assumed to not disobey people or make noise, and all of that is very restrictive, even oppressing.

Personally, I feel the need to play. Playing alone (computer games, say) is fine, but not sufficient. Roleplaying is one way of genuinely playing in a group, especially when everyone trusts each other. Other social games can fill the same niche, but of course I hold them less interesting then roleplaying.

Regardless, there still is the sense of not having the permission to be oneself in company. I think it is terribly draining and unhealthy.

What to do? I think I’ll try to build a network of people within the larger society; a network so that I don’t need to pretend when among them. It might lead to something, or not. Hard to tell right now.

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