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What is Play?

What does play mean and why we need it

What is Play?

We constantly hear of teams experiencing burnout, lacking motivation, and desiring creativity. Our venture started to help organizations navigate their pressure points with play.

But what does play mean exactly?

When you hear it, what comes to mind?

Do you think about free time, a game, a musical instrument, or a vacation? If you have trouble settling on one image, you are not alone. The word "play" evokes many images and words that are difficult to describe; play is not neatly defined but encompasses a range of connected characteristics. Before we dive into what play means, let's dispel the myth that play is only important to children or animals, and recognize that play has value for all of us throughout our lifetimes.

What Is Play and Why is it Important?

Play usually consists of self-directed activities that have voluntary rules. Children first learn to play at random, by their own will, and create imaginary rules in games. At its core, play is something no one tells you to do, but something you choose to do.

Play is non-obligatory, self-imposed, and self-directed, whereas "work" is obligatory, and involves external parties and responsibilities. This doesn't mean work is bad and play is good, but playing takes on characteristics that are often the opposite of work. Many forms of play are self-directed, meaning creativity is fostered and knowledge is constructed, rather than instructed. If play is defined as something self-directed, it is also intrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic Motivation

Workplaces require a high level of cooperation, both internal (with co-workers) and external (with clients and partners). Trying to cooperate with unmotivated people can cause chronic frustration. Many people seek external motivation, which often incentivizes them to do the bare minimum of work or collaboration for the max amount of money and acclaim because the reward is not in the action or journey itself. This is partially to blame on workplace structures and the culture. Play, on the other hand, provides balance to both external and intrinsic motivation.

Doing things we don't want or are not excited about is a part of life. The reality for many is that money is the primary reason they work. People often switch jobs in search of pay increases, to handle the necessary expenses required to live life. Shortly after receiving that pay increase, however, they feel empty and undervalued again, want more money. may seek to job hop once again.

This vicious cycle highlights why play is so important: play is something done in and of itself because you want to. Think of the activities that we would call play. You don't get paid to hike in a beautiful national forest, you don't earn accolades for getting on the floor and playing with your children, there are no quarterly reviews on having a game night with close friends. You do them because play is the diversion from the necessities, it is intrinsically motivated, and intrinsic motivation is correlated with higher life satisfaction, health, and well-being.

Play and failure

Play can also be defined as something without serious consequences. You get to strategize moves in chess, you get to see how you stack up physically in a game of tennis: you are afforded a space to fail. Combat sports and games allow men to be gladiators or warriors without the consequences of being a gladiator or in a war. Play frees you from having to have constant success, this might be why we enjoy playful activities, the burden and stress of dangerous and negative consequences are turned off. You can laugh at a mistake, while also learning something about yourself. Playing takes you into a low-stakes simulation or fantasy.

Self-control and Games

Games exhibit the most common and tangible characteristics of play: they have a rule structure and dedicated outcome. The rules are egalitarian: as the saying goes "everyone plays by the same rules," which make them fair in a way work often is not.

Also unlike work, games are voluntary. The players have to agree to the rules, and if they don't want to follow them, they do not have to play. The voluntary nature extends to the creation of house rules. As long as the mechanics and controls of the game intuitively make sense, are fair, and foster the right amount of competitiveness, players are free to engage with the rules in whatever way they want. That is the beautiful tension of games, your free will in balance with the rules and structure of the game. The theme of freedom and self-regulation is ever-present in playing games.

Play With Barometer XP

Helping teams play more is what we do. Our approach is using games to provide a space to grow, strengthen, and test pressure points. We develop a wide range of games that don't make the player feel coerced or forced, that is where play ceases to be playful. Play is defined as the choice to choose. Remember the playful person enjoys the research and reading of the subject, not the testing of the subject. Play is ultimately about the means, not the ends.


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