When was the last time you played a really good board game? Monopoly, Checkers, Shoots and Ladders. For many of us these games lose much of their appeal once we leave childhood, but what if you had the opportunity to create your own board game?
I just finished teaching a three week Revolutionary Conversation at the East Side Institute called The Play Revolution: Practice, Research and Policy. It was an exciting opportunity to share my passion for play and to explore the growing number of organizations and individuals that are putting play into practice for everything from invigorating classroom practice and bringing innovation into business, to addressing the deprivations of growing up poor. Members of the class took a playful look at the internet and found a wealth of organizations, individuals, and websites that give expression to the ways people are tapping into our human ability to play to challenge some of the alienation and “stuckness” of human life. We marveled at the creativity of John Bohannon who invites academics to replace powerpoints with dance and of 9-year old Caine whose cardboard arcade is inspiring children everywhere to make things. We listened to people all over the world create street music together through an organization called Playing for Change.
One of the characteristics of play that we explored in the class was the ways in which play puts us in touch with our ability to create. When we play, we can break from the seeming scriptedness of adult life, and perform in ways that are less alienated. We practiced this by choosing activities that we normally just “do” in our lives and we played with them. Some people created games to play while riding a crowded subway and others had conversations with their family members that broke from the usual scripted ways of speaking. We had old conversations in new ways. In class we explored the relationship between the small moments of play that we could create and the need for the species as a whole to tap into our ability to be playful with the most challenging of differences.
On the last week of the class we pulled together our conversations and explorations and collectively created a game called The State of Play.
It was a double whammy play experience–the creating of the game was improvisational and creative, and the playing of the game was in many ways a creative imitation of every board game we had ever played. There were rules to the game, but in the style that very young children play; we were constantly bringing new rules into existence at the same time that we were actually playing. The starting line of the game said, “Get everyone who is playing to play a game together that everyone can succeed at.” So, even though we had just spent an hour creating one game, we quickly regrouped and collectively created another game together.
One of the most exciting features of the game is that it is not over. At some point in the evening we each landed on a square that directed us to pick a card. The cards gave directions for continuing the play once we left the room. For example, my card said, “to ask a stranger to create a poem for you.” At the end of the evening one of the participants pointed out that if we kept creating the game wherever we went, eventually play would take over the world.