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How Do We “Show Up” When We Play, and Why Is It Important?

Having the right mindset and approach can make a difference in your play experiences

At Barometer XP, we believe that the most valuable insights from play come from situational awareness. Or, in other words, bringing attention to how we “show up” while playing a game.

But what does that mean? What insights are we looking for?

When we talk about how we “show up, we’re referring to how each person feels, thinks, and acts (or reacts) in a situation, and what we can learn from what we observe.

Here’s an example.

I have an almost-6-year-old niece who loves to play Uno. I love when she asks me to play, because I love both the game itself and spending time with my niece. She’s excited to play because she’s starting to understand the idea of strategy, and loves trying to beat me at the game. Challenge accepted!

For me, what makes it so meaningful is the strong bond we have from having the same love of games, and that it gives me a front seat to watching her learn and grow as a person. My motivation as we’re playing is to keep the fun, playful, positive atmosphere going as long as possible. In other words, I’m more focused on making sure we FEEL like playing is a positive experience.

My niece has a different motivation. Sure, it’s fun to hang out with her auntie, but she wants to win! She’s incredibly smart, and enjoys the problem-solving aspect of the game, trying to THINK up with strategies to help her win. Her tactics (ACTions) include:

  • Trying to look at my card through complicated yet transparent ruses (she just happened to throw her scrunchie right behind where I am sitting and must retrieve it right now).

  • “Accidentally” picking multiple cards from the deck when she should only pick one, and then keeping the best one.

  • Showing me the cards she’s thinking of playing, and asking me which one would be better.

  • Politely asking me not to play a card that will disadvantage her.

She’s quite a creative thinker - I give her a lot of credit for that and certainly encourage it. But I am not one of those aunties who always let the kids win, especially if cheating is involved (see the first two bullets above). Part of what maintains the positive feel of the game for me is demonstrating healthy competitive behavior and good sportsmanship.

If I catch her cheating, I call her out on it (ACT). I give her a chance to make a different choice and tell her that her cheating makes playing a less fun experience for me. In communicating my feelings, I’m giving her choices for how to move forward.

In this simple example, there are so many opportunities for my niece and me to better understand each other, and look for new ways to communicate our priorities and needs.

How might play be useful in exploring relationships in your life?