Notes: Nature & Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon

[Article in question]

Huizinga and Sutton-Smith assert that play is voluntary, however I’ve personally witnessed a certain fear of play in people. One example would be in an exhibition setting, there would be people standing by, or verbally refusing from participating or engaging with the work (video game), yet when handed a controller / Oculus Rift as a physical gesture, they would submit to that engagment (few haven’t). While in itself a forceful gesture, I believe the play becomes voluntary from that point on, as the observer becomes the player engaging with the work, no longer under the contract or agreement to recieve the controller for such activity. Perhaps the exhibition setting deters people from “messing about” with the work (which defies the purpose thereof), or some psychological aspect of somehow being in the spotlight or under scrutiny by the exhibitors, I’m sure the reasons are as diverse as the people caught in such situations.

Describing different play-spaces, Huizinga mentioned “courthouse”, making me think of the justice system & courthouse as playground in which the prosecution and defense are playing a meta game, whose goal is not to prove the innocense or guilt of the defendant, but rather one up each other at convincing the jury of superiority in their own reasoning, whereafter, release or imprisonment of the defendant stands as proof of one’s superiority among the lawyer players, given the jury have no vested interest in either of the outcomes of defendant’s destiny.

“Spoil-sport”, p 106, integrity of play-world and player’s desire to maintain the illusion, often embraced by people outside of play, for example at a job, where everybody knows that something is wrong, and there is an unspoken consensus of such happenings, however nobody calls that thing out, for the fear of destroying an illusion of a happy life or workplace, as well as fear of being ostricized by the participants for speaking of the unspoken.

I have a personal experience in such scenario, when I was addressed to stop calling out my ex-employer’s upper management’s inadequate behavior and business practices and management malfunctions. I was told to stop, because it destroys the suspense of disbelief that that corporate environment was a great place to work and that it produced amazing product. The management and the workers were aware of all truths with a kind of mutual agreement, evident in confiding with frustrations amongst each other, however the truth was undesired by the “power players” in control of the play world, because it broke that game.

On vulnerabilities during play:
Advertizing seeks to inject itself in the mental space of people when they’re at play, because that’s when they’re most vulnerable to needing props to support their play-world, like beer and manly lifestyle adverts appeal to those that engage in the social play of bar hopping and football game watching, or feminine products targeted at women approaching menopause, seeking to inject into their daily struggle at keeping up the game of make-believe of youth.

Are people always “playing” when they’re in their “play-world”, or can they sit still, disengaged, yet within the mental constructs of that world? ie. When we have a dream of a certain life we desire, we engage in everyday rituals and games that makes us believe, or is aimed at making others believe that that lifestyle is true. What does it mean, when we stop the rituals? Do we break our own game? Is that where depression comes from? When our actions don’t fulfill the mental playspace?

I don’t think play has to proclaim a standstill to ordinary life with clear boundaries where play begins and ends. Playspace can be mental as well as physical, and both can run in parallel and can exist on their own. I can still “play” when I’m driving or going about some mundane task, even now, i’m retroactively posting blog entries, is a kind of mental game to achieve completion, or to discover something within my own mind that I haven’t encountered before.

The description of the tribesmen wearing masks making ghost noises in a ritual with women being fully aware of the play involved, participate willingly in make belief, just like the old women at the Elvis impersonator concert, they know he’s not Elvis, they know they’re not in their 20’s anymore, yet both parties engage in a willful submission to the play-world.

During every reading, I make a note of every word that I have to confirm the definition of online, so I’ll be making a little glossary at the end of each post to help them stick, or have them as some kind of “tag” for future references or starting points for thought.

My glossary:

petitio principii