Play and Playfulness

I have written a good deal about play and playfulness in this blog. In June I wrote about Sliding to Catch a Train and more recently wrote about Play and Display.

This morning I received an RSS feed from The Scholarly Kitchen with a delightful example of the play spirit central to Johan Huizinga’s play elements of culture (Homo Ludens, 1938).

The Scholarly Kitchen post took me back to Roger Caillois too. Caillois suggests that play is:

  • Not obligatory
  • Separate (from the routine of life) occupying its own time and space
  • Uncertain so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved
  • Unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins
  • Governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviours and that must be followed by players
  • Involves make-believe that confirms in players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’.

In Les Jeux des Hommes (1958) he identifies four play forms (competition, chance, role playing and vertigo) and places these on a continuum that extends from structured activities with explicit rules (games), to unstructured and spontaneous activities (playfulness).

This is The Schorlarly Kitchen post that prompted these thoughts!

This one is dedicated to the parents out there. In this recently rediscovered clip of Mary Carillo’s rant about backyard badminton, every parent can take a moment to recall a day like this, which has certainly occurred at your house or at a house near you. Best line? There are many, but my vote goes for, “Then you see Christopher Berg — and it’s always Christopher Berg”.

Mary Carillo demonstrates in this video some of the cultural universals of play and playfulness. The video started out as a run of the day report from the 2004 Olympic Games and evolved into an absolutely delightful improvised story about backyard badminton. It is a story that will resonate with any parent and teacher. (Please excuse the quality of the audio!)

I thought it was a wonderful playful story about playfulness. It took me back to a remarkable experience my two children and I had in a park in Monmouth in South Wales in the mid 1990s. It was our first attempt to collect some conkers (horse chestnuts) in the park. We were happily throwing sticks at the conkers in the tree with very little success when I caught a glimpse of a policeman approaching.

Thinking we had broken some local bye-law we awaited our fate with trepidation. When the policeman got to us and uttered that time honoured line “Ullo, ullo, what’s going on here then?” We admitted that we were failed conker getters. I am not sure if it was the sad look on the children’s faces but the policeman decided to help us.

I have no idea what possessed him to throw his helmet into the tree but he did … and it failed to come down. Heroically he decided to throw his truncheon after it … and that got stuck too. At this point the children and I were desperately trying not to laugh but we were caught up in that uncontrollable fight with and enormous laugh trying to break out that sounds like a very large vehicle’s air brakes.

To his great credit the policeman did not give up and asked me to give him a bunk up into the tree to retrieve his equipment. I did so but to my great dismay he wedged his foot in the bowl of the tree. I am not sure if you have ever been in this situation but I wonder what message you would send on a police radio you are not supposed to use to request the fire brigade to extricate a policeman from a tree he should not be in retrieving equipment that should not have left his person.

Mary Carillo brought these memories back so vividly!

Photo Credit

Badminton (33)

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