More thoughts on play

This is a response to Tim’s post over at Tim’s Blog. He offers anecdotal response to the cultural shift of playing as a child & adolescent outside with friends and then slowly losing his playmates to online games and interactive entertainments. As part of the class assignment we’re supposed to head over to Second Life and play around a bit, and Tim recounted his experiences and wove it into his anecdotal analysis of the weekly reading subject of Play experience.

Responding to Tim 

What if Second Life is gaining appeal because it allows us to mask ourselves instead of having to be the person we were born?  What if all of this obsession with avatars and programmable appearance choices is just humanity’s way of fighting off culture-wide insecurities?  Maybe the reason that you’re not as drawn into the virtual communities is because you’re more or less happy with your ‘real world avatar’?

When life is full and we’re satisfied with who we are and where we are and what we’re doing, why seek further? Or maybe we’re being drawn into virtual play because as adults we are culturally frowned upon when we play, and the virtual world allows us to commune with our inner play impulse in the privacy of our own home.

Cultural Shift

We could also make the argument that our culture has removed any kind of ritualized passage into adulthood. I know that when growing up and ‘playing’ all the time I was warned of a time in life called ‘growing up’ when I would no longer be able to play any more, I would have to work. I resented that, since play was the only thing worth doing to my childlike view of the world.  In teenaged years and later on into undergrad studies and the splash into the real world, I kept waiting for that magical point at which play had to end.

It never came. If anything, as I grew older and older, games got more and more involved and complex (and I’m not using ‘games’ as a euphemism, I mean literal ‘games’ that everyone knew were games when they began, not head games and political games of office intrigue). They got better and better. My teenaged days of D&D turned into adult weekend get-togethers with D&D used as an excuse to get together around a table once every other month or so. My computer games got more intense, and moved to online MMORPG format (What does MMORPG stand for? Many Men Online Role-Playing Girls is one punchline).

This ties in with what Pine & Gillmore (The Experience Economy, 1999) pointed out.  We moved into an economy where what was valued was the Experience being provided.  The technology changed the experience and made it more complex and more substantive than early EGA video days of moving blips of light. My web browsers can run more intricate video games than my Atari 5600 could.  But even then, back in the day, you either had an Atari 2600 yourself, or else you knew someone who did and you went over to their house to play those games.  Even back in the 1970s we were already looking for the Experience of the game.

Guess we’re just going to have to hold on and see what the future brings. I will say this… all of this time with my partner at home without cable TV or internet has actually increased our communication and enriched our relationship. Maybe at the end of the day it’s all just a question of learning how to set personal limits and finding our own balance in our relationship with technology.


4 responses to “More thoughts on play

  1. exploringinteractivecommunication

    Will you continue not to have the internet of cable television 0r is it only temporary.

  2. exploringinteractivecommunication


  3. Hopefully temporary. This is necessity, not a statement. 😉 Kind of ironic if I were paying for a grad school education about Interactive Communication and I opted out of getting internet and cable for my home, no?

    Soon. Hopefully by the second week of November.

  4. When life is full and we’re satisfied with who we are and where we are and what we’re doing, why seek further?

    Just as an amusing aside, this week’s episode of “The Office” showed Dwight explaining that when he first signed up with Second Life, his life was so perfect that he recreated it online down to the last detail, just so he could experience it again. Except there he could also fly. Heh.

    Anyway, there is a body of literature in communications about what is called “uses and gratifications (theory)” that might interest you in this regard, since it basically takes a functionalist perspective on media use and assumes that it must fulfill some perceived need. It doesn’t get much attention these days, but it speaks to your point here.

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