EDIT: Jesus. That got long fast. TL;DR = YAY PLAYTIME!
Kim Possible Taught Me What A Game Is
What really makes a game possible.
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A great insight that I wish more adults would get. Imagination is too often viewed as a childhood convenience that is to be set aside for facts and numbers at the ripe old age of eighteen, and our world is worse for it.
Imagination isn't just for kids It's a valuable critical thinking skill, and the cause of all the world's best things. When kids in school solve word problems, they do so by imagining the situation being described. Everything that has been invented was only invented because someone imagined a world that worked differently and took steps to make it so. And it all starts with that first stray stick that turns into a sword.
Playtime is the gymnasium in which we build the strength and agility of our imaginations. And it's still true for adults, though the gym equipment is often dusty and neglected, the doors boarded shut.
Somewhere along the line, we start to believe Imagination gets in the way of the Practical. Pretending to be a spaceman does no one any good, so instead you should find more "productive" hobbies like building birdhouses or something. Instead of the purpose of a game being to play, we have to have goals -- most importantly, numerical win conditions. Competitive gameplay became more important than cooperative gameplay, because it resulted in "knowing who was better" -- a practical, useful result.
With win conditions came loss conditions, particularly important in singleplayer games. After all, a game in which anyone can win if they persevere? That's useless and impractical. We need some way of using games to measure... Ah! And there's the problem. Instead of playtime having its own purpose, the only way we could justify its continued existence in our lives is to use it to measure something practical. "Skill" is the usual goal.
Behind the scenes, though, imagination is still the fuel. Seeing potential and possibility, or even just asking "What if the impossible wasn't?" When a golf enthusiast buys that new club Tiger Woods is endorsing, and he spouts off all the technical specs and science behind its design... there's still an eight-year-old in his head that loves that club because he imagines it'll turn him into Tiger Woods. To ignore that inner eight-year-old does him a disservice, because it closes off part of the joy and purpose of the "play time." Ask a pro athlete, and they'll probably talk a bit about visualizing -- the first step to becoming great is imagining yourself being great.
Playtime is important for communicating with ourselves. It can alleviate stress, quiet doubts, give us aspirations... It's the only cure for rampant, paralyzing cynicism. The value of true Playtime is that it is open-ended. There's no condition that brings a definitive "end" to the experience -- whether by losing or by winning. Now rules, yeah, they're important for governing the interaction of Your Playtime and My Playtime, but when we fixate on the numerical measures and demand that playtime have a "point," we set up roadblocks that destroy the open-ended nature of the experience.
I've often asked myself what makes Man A, who wears a Chewbacca costume to a Star Wars premiere, any "worse" or less "grown-up" than Man B, who wears his favorite player's jersey or favorite team's hat to a football game. Society has programmed me to assume Man B's expression is more "acceptable," but I have yet to find any convincing reasons why. We simply allow the numerical measurement to tell us there's more of a "point" to football than to Star Wars, and never question whether that's an improvement.
Beh, I could go on forever about this, it's so near-and-dear to my heart... I'll skip to the end with two things:
1. How is it that we expect children who are "all play" to suddenly turn into adults that are "all work?" Children and adults are both just humans (of various sizes). Both groups need work and both groups need play. Our world would be vastly improved if adults had the ability to just go outside with their neighbors and play a game of Freeze Tag.
2. Imagination doesn't get in the way of the Practical. It gives the Practical purpose. It's the only thing that ever drives improvement. It's not the numbers telling us "better," it's the fact that our imaginations tell us it's even worth looking for those numbers in the first place. And we're forgetting that. How can we ever expect the world to get better if we won't allow there to be any people left who can imagine it that way?