Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Sense of Play

Found at
(not my photo - attribution unknown.
let me know if it is yours)
I was recently listening to a recent episode of the new-ish Toy Photography Podcast episodes that centered on the idea of play.

That episode got me thinking about the sense of play, and how it is important as an adult - especially an artistic adult.  I am wondering if it is easier these days to maintain that sense of play. Here is my reasoning.

For most of human history ones peers were simply the kids that lived in your town.  You really only had those kids to look to for social acceptance, and so you were pressured by the desire to please that specific group to gain acceptance. Kids playing is considered normal, and almost inevitable.  So as a youngling a sense of play is easy to come by.  Play is just something you do with your mates. However those mates are just the people who happened to be born at roughly the same time you were - - you didn't really get to choose who they were.

As kids grow up their focus shifts from wanting to be accepted by their mates to wanting to be accepted by others - in my case, those pesky yet interesting creatures known as girls.  Since most people lose the sense of play as they make that shift into dating, and eventually marriage, for those of us that had a strong sense of play, and really didn't want to lose it, it was easier sometimes to drop it instead of becoming that one weird person.  The pressures of social norms and being accepted are powerful forces in a teenage psyche.

In my own case, when I was a kid I played with the kids in my neighbourhood like most kids who grew up in suburban Canada in the 1970s.  As I grew older, especially when I started that crucible of social anxiety known as high school I  felt a strong pressure to not play any longer. None of my friends did. Mind you I still did, behind close doors.  I spent many evenings and weekends building complex models out of Lego - right up until college - it was just my dirty little secret. Don't tell!

In my 20s and early 30s I didn't play much at all, tho I wanted to.  I collected some minifigs (Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars mostly), but never did anything with them aside from display them (insert quirky story about filling the curio cabinet we received as a wedding present with my action figures instead of the glassware we also got as wedding presents here).

Only in my late 30s and now early 40s I stopped caring about the social norms.  I had few people I needed to impress, and the ones I did (my wife and kids) encouraged (Or at least didn't judge me) when I picked up some LEGO and started playing again thru the lens of photography.  I had a reason to start playing again  even tho it still felt like something I really should share outside of my most inner of social circles.

When I started sharing my LEGO work online I came across communities of like minded folk, many adults, who also shared the sense of play, and created the same sort of art I did.  Now I don't feel the need to hide my LEGO habits from anyone, because I've found my social network that will accept me despite, neigh because of, my predilections to play with LEGO as a 43 year old.  My sense of play, as a result, was released and unfettered.

Now when I think of my kids growing up, as their social peers begin to lose their collective sense of play as part of becoming teenagers, they will at the same time be old enough to start finding new peer groups online.  Hopefully those kids (my own included) will be able to find their own social groups online that help them keep and foster the sense of play - the ones I found in my 40s - while still in their teens.  As a result they may never lose it, and be forced to re-discover it, like I did.

If I am right, the future is going to likely be a more playful, and therefore creative place than what I have had.  If I am right,  that is going to be a future to look forward too.