Monday, July 30, 2012

Never Outgrow Playing

If there's one thing that you should never, ever do, it's get too old to play. It's one of the great things about spending time with kids, you get a chance to play, use your imagination, and live in a world where the rules are whatever you want them to be. Is the floor now lava? Are we all now spies sneaking into enemy command? Does this bedsheet mean I'm a superhero?

The answer to all those questions is yes. That's what's so great about play, it lets you take a break from normal life, which is often boring, uneventful, and wears you down. Of course, as grown-ups, we still have to live that life because we like eating food that resides in refrigerators that run on the electricity we pay for. It's a complicated world, and play lets us take breaks.

Obviously, the type of playing we do changes as we get older but is no less ridiculous. In fact, some of the best kinds of play are the grown up versions of the games we played as kids. Nowadays you can take part in a humans versus zombies experience that lets you play at being a flesh-eating remorseless killer or the few surviving humans that must either escape or fight back. If you want to reenact the glories of your childhood war games, and I pity the child that never went to war in his/her neighborhood, then you can join a Civil War Reenactment. If you like Dungeons and Dragons but actually enjoy the outdoors, then LARPing is for you.

The point of these experiences is that we get to be someone else and somewhere else for a while, and that's the best part. We get to recapture and cultivate that youthful energy that never ran out of things to do, that belief that anything was possible if you just said it was. That boost to the imagination that was an overflowing fountain of creativity.

There's a reason play is more than just a way to keep the kids occupied. Play is how we learn. It's how we figure out the world, how everything works, how to solve problems, work as a team, depend on yourself, improvise, and think of something no one else has ever come up with. It trains the brain. But children don't have to be the only ones who benefit.

We grown-ups can also use a boost of imagination. I'm currently in the middle of writing my second book, and there are times I get stuck. I find that I've written myself into a corner and I can't figure it out. So I stop writing, power up my Wii, and pretend to be a cybernetic bounty hunter for a little while. All the while I'm shooting alien creatures, my brain is working on the problem. By coming up with imaginative solutions for my in-game character, I'm better able to think though my issue with this book.

Any project you're working on can benefit from a little bit of play. Now, you want to make sure you keep the work-play balance in perspective. The last thing you need is to have too much play, because suddenly you aren't helping your work, you're letting it pile up. That's part of being a grown-up who plays as opposed to a kid. We've got a lot more to do with our time.

Still, when you strike that balance, when you give yourself permission to play, to use your imagination, you'll find that your ability to use that same imagination in the real-world is that much better. What seemed like unsolvable problems can become more manageable when you learn to use your imagination, and see it from the perspective of those who can turn a floor to lava with simple declaration.

If you want to read my first book, you can find it here.

 More of my Musings

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