Written by Bori Hardi
Memories of playing.
When I was a child, I played a lot with my sisters. I grew up in the countryside, so we played outside a lot. We always had access to the outdoors and that really shaped our playing. In my memories, playing was equal to making up stories and characters, imagining worlds. We would find inspiration from stories we liked, films, musicals, books, notably, “Notre-Dame de Paris”, “The Lord of the Rings” or “Romeo and Juliette”. We played our favourite characters and put our own spin on the stories, feeling the stories and feeling all the emotions that go with it. This playing involved narrating the story, acting, running, singing, hiding, fighting, betraying, caring, escaping, preparing for battle, saving each other, attacking each other, dramatically staring at each other, dancing and singing, loving and forgiving. Most importantly, I was in a process of creation with others, humans and non-humans alike. Even when I was playing alone, I was playing with the other non-human entities around me, the landscape, the furniture, the clothes, the toys, the trees, etc. We found a new use for everyday objects, socks became projectile, the parquet became a dangerous stormy sea; our beds the only things keeping us from drowning, we have to find a way to survive, make the sea calmer, bring our floating beds to safety.
Playing as I see it, makes you be and act with attention. When you are playing classic children’s games like tag or hide and seek, you become really alert to your surroundings. You run and look for a way to lose the one running after you; which tree, which bush, or lamppost will allow you to take a turn, to gain enough distance, to escape? When you hide, all your senses become alert, you interpret every single sound, every change in the air around you could mean it is the end for you, so you try to slow down your breath and pay attention. When you play you are not in a subject-object relationship with other human and non-human entities but rather trying to be in correspondence with others. Correspondence is “about answering to these happenings with interventions, questions and responses of our own- or in other words about living attentionally with others” (Ingold, 2014, p. 389). Playing is exactly that, being in correspondence with others by paying close attention to them.
Another important part of playing was the spontaneity. Out of the blue, I would tell my little sister: “Look, there! Can you see that strange looking cloud? We have to find out what it is and make sure it doesn’t bring any harm to our land.” And she would follow me into this unknown world I just opened up, she followed me into imagining. From then on, we were paying attention, alert to the unfolding playing that we were a part of. Sure, I liked to direct and feel a sense of control in how the playing was turning out, but after all these years I know I was just one part of a big playing in process, in becoming. The processual nature of play is what makes me use the verb ‘playing’ more instead of the noun ‘play’. Using the noun creates a static, bounded notion of play as a clearly defined and limited thing in time. Whereas the verb allows us to see playing in its true processual, fluid, ephemeral nature in becoming (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). What happened in our ‘childhood playing’ was a result of the intra-action at play between everything present, my sisters, our toys, our costumes, the trees in our garden, the rocks, the insects, the clouds, the wind, our parents, the sound of the buses driving by… I use the concept of intra-action borrowed from Barad where intra- means from within, as opposed to inter which means amongst. So intra-action, and not interaction, allows for “differential senses of being to be enacted in the ongoing flow of agency” (Barad, 2003, p. 815). Meaning I was not the one controlling the becoming of playing but rather a part of it and everything around us had the potential to be an equal part of our playing. That is why we had to be alert, one moment of letting our attention down and the playing could slip away from us in an instant. The playing always had to end but the length of it is not what matters. The perfect play can last just a few words or sentences, a movement, a shared understanding, a moment where attention was brought, and playfulness happened. This sort of happening can seem simple and easy, but it is not. For play to happen you need a smoothness of communication, you need attention, creativity, freedom, trust, and the coincidence for all these things to align. It seems that the more you grow up the less you find yourself part of playful moments of becoming.
When I think of myself now as a 25-year-old, I wonder what, if anything, is left of playing in my life. I have finally learnt how to play bridge which is something my dad and his family have always played together. Although, them playing bridge stands quite far from the idea of play I had as a child. Every summer I would watch my uncles, aunts, grandmother and dad play bridge together and it was a very serious affair indeed. When they were playing, they were not to be disturbed, they would sit around the table holding cards in their hands with frowned eyebrows, in silence, and think a lot. Now that I have learned how to play bridge, I can assure you it feels nothing like the kind of playing I did with my sisters. I enjoy playing bridge, just like I enjoy playing boardgames or video games, but it does not feel the same at all. These games are games not exactly play. They are structured and usually played to win or to achieve a clear and defined role. Game is but “a manifestation, a form of and for play” (Sicart, 2014, p. 4). Games, like playing bridge with my family, can be a form of play, it might create optimal situations for play to happen, but it is a highly structured kind of play. Maybe that’s the reason why adults prefer to engage in this form of play which provides them with a structured and goal-oriented safety net. On the other hand, for playing one needs to take a leap of faith to enter a process of playful unknown becoming.
When was the last time you played?
I can remember being at home last summer, one morning making breakfast in the kitchen alone listening to a spotify morning playlist, when my sister walked in. She had just woken up, made herself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. As I was preparing some eggs and bringing more food to the table, I started narrating to her the atmosphere I imagined with the song playing. I was thinking: if this song was part of a morning scene in a movie what kind of character would it portray, what kind of house, what kind of breakfast, what kind of weather would it fit. With each new song that started my sister and I imagined new scenes and acted out all the different characters we could imagine in those songs.
Sometimes while I’m alone at home I play with the music I listen to, I start acting, start moving, start chopping my tomatoes to the rhythm of the song, I start brushing my teeth to the beat of the drums, I start making my bed to the flow of the melody, I start squishing the sponge to the pulse of the sounds.
I am not a native English speaker, and neither is my boyfriend. We often play with English words that we find hard to pronounce or that sound funny to us. This kind of play can last for quite a few minutes of us just repeating the same word over and over again, saying it with as many variations or intonations we can come up with. Rural, rUral, rural, RuRal, rurAl, RuuRal, rural, rural, rural, rural, rural, rural, … Vulnerable, vUlnerable, vulrenable, vulnrable, vurlnerable, vulnrerable, vulrnerable, vulnerable, …
One afternoon I was walking in the street with my friend, she grabbed my arm and started swinging me from side to side. I noticed the square patterns on the floor and started to step in them to the rhythm she was pushing me to. After some adjustment, we found the perfectly synchronised movements of our legs criss-crossing each other and only stepping inside the squares. Until we reached the end of the street and there were no more squares left for us to step in.
I think these small everyday moments of play are the remnants of the kind of playing I had as a child. They can happen anywhere, but they always show a level of communication or connection not just with the other human beings but also with the environment surrounding me. Playing connects us in a very unique way and allows moments of real attention to others and our environment. So often, in our adult life when play comes up there seems to be another purpose behind it. I hear about companies encouraging play in the workplace because it increases productivity. Play is used for therapies by health professionals to help their patients. Numerous researches have shown play can improve learning capabilities in both adults and children. It seems that even with something such as play which I would argue by definition is ephemeral and unproductive (not producing), we still try to make it fit into what’s considered useful. We still try to exploit it and squeeze out all the potential productivity we can from it. Play inspires me to take a leap of silliness, it makes me want to believe that there is more in our world than the endless demand for productivity and growth. Playing as I see it should be free, with no strings attached, with no hidden agenda. It should be an end in itself and not always be used as simply a means to achieve something bigger and more important or more useful. Play can be an invaluable tool for a lot of great things, but play is not quantifiable, it is not classifiable or objective. We should never lose sight of what makes play play: creativity, equality, freedom, attentiveness, and connection. Sometimes you got to let play be play and nothing else.
So, I invite you to try and find these small moments of playing in your life. When was the last time you played? When was the last time you did something for no reason, really did something that had no purpose? When was the last time you started intra-acting with others and did not know what outcome if any you would find at the end? When was the last time you let your guard down and let your free, creative, spontaneous self react to something that happened around you? When was the last time you paid attention to your surroundings and reacted in response or in correspondence? If you cannot think of anything now, see what happens in the next days and you might notice all the little hidden pockets of playing in your life too.
Barad, K., 2003. Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), pp. 801-831.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F., 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Ingold, T., 2014. That’s Enough about Ethnography!. HAU: Journal of ethnographic Theory, 1(4), pp. 383-395.
Ingold, T., 2017. The Art of paying Attention. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mytf4ZSqQs
[Accessed 30 07 2020].
Sicart, M., 2014. Play Matters. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: MIT Press.