On Cooperation and Competition in Games

Cooperate or compete – a dichotomous key in the Tree of All Games. Having little desire in my heart to prove myself against others, preferring instead to celebrate the accomplishments of my companions, I’ve had nothing but love for the cooperative game for as long as memory serves. Beyond taste or preference, I believe this is due to a deeper compulsion. The cooperative game, I put it to you, is a higher form of play, predicated by its lesser, necessary ancestor: survival. In cooperation we all succeed or fail as one, beauty of being in either consequence. It is a subversion of the instinctual mechanism of self-congratulatory egoism and dominance. In it, we may observe all the striven-for virtues of humankind without need of heroism and vilification. Compassion, selflessness, devotion, courage, empathy, modesty, patience, respect, thankfulness, humility, understanding, unity, compassion, kindness, generosity, forgiveness – as if on the cooperative compass floats a needle that avoids the magnetic poles to point true north.

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The rare, cooperative board game. Pandemic is tons of fun.

In competition, we sate our pangs for success by equating it to overcoming others, to besting our brethren. There are winners and so must there be losers – heroes and villains – the righteous and the unworthy. The price of personal success: another’s failure. Balanced at the surface, akimbo at its core, playing against each other sows some insidious vices. Defeated, we may punish ourselves and submit to indentured inferiority. Enraged, we may retaliate and trade reason for blindness. Pedestaled, we may begin to believe in our own divinity, making idols of ourselves. Exalted, we cast shadows over others in oppressive indifference. Fun, that riotous celebration of life, is not in the winning. Fun is playing together. It resides in the process, not in the end points of agency.

In cooperation, we play against the game itself. Its virtual rules challenge us to best it, to overcome indifference and unite in strategy and force. It is a barn raising. It is a dead lift that is as light as a feather. It is a society post-privilege. In cooperative games the weak link is not a single person but a failure to unite – together we are not a weighted chain of snapping links, but a gravity made stronger by every union. When it is time to cast our paper balls at the rubbish bin, those in front control the turn of the key in the Tree of All Games; turn it backward to win against those behind – or turn it forward in assistance, serve the alley-oop, where even if you’ve lost, you’ve won.

Let us play more together. For that I am always game.


“A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.”

–Vera Nazarian


On Adult Play

Of significant interest to me in studying ‘play’ behavior is how it factors into the modern adult life. I am experientially convinced that humans do not cease to play upon reaching adulthood. However, the forms of play often undergo significant metamorphoses. After all, what are we doing when we spend an evening out at the bar with friends? Hours watching Netflix at home? Online gaming? Board games? Street sports? Shopping and ‘playing’ house? Going out on dates? Making love? Cooking something new? Paying to watch spectator events? Goofing around with our children and pets? Travelling?

May 18th, 2014

Adults and Teens on the 21 Balançoires, Montréal, Canada

In adulthood, we often live out the adventures we imagine as kids – and because the adventures are real, they may also be stressful. There are no time outs. Frustrations abound despite all our efforts. But child’s play is ridden with stress too – that’s just part of adapting and growing! If you’ve ever watched children sharing a conventional playground, there are proverbial fountains of tears being shed (crying is an exceptional way to relieve stress, by the way). Sometimes we blame immaturity for a child’s tears on the playground – I have – but their reaction is completely normal. As we age, the expectation in most cultures is that we cry less and tolerate more. Maybe that’s fine, but becoming a ‘resilient,’ ‘well-adjusted’ adult does not imply we ought to lose our celebratory, whimsical spirit. We all desire to play, to let loose, to feel the burden of social obligations lift for a moment and find the freedom to explore ourselves, our physical environments, and each other. Unattached. Unfettered. Alive.

I strongly associate the act of play with ‘living.’ Whether or not this association is valid, I find myself entering adulthood wholly unwilling to part with play. It is essential to who I am as a person, and I see the value in it for others as well. On the matter of play in adult life, I have written one ‘critical literature review’ grounded in environmental psychology, and a few fictional narratives that explore it experientially via archetypal landscapes. I plan to make these available in an upcoming post, but will send them through another round of editing before I do that. In the meantime, I’d like to get some feedback from you, dear reader.

What are some ways you play in your adult life?
Please share your play-habits in a reply below.


“It’s not that we spend five days looking forward to just two. It’s that most people do what they enjoy most on those two days. Imagine living a life where everyday are your Saturdays and Sundays. Make everyday your weekend. Make everyday a play-day…”

–James Murphy


The Maplewood Canal

Have you ever had an experience so uncannily coincidental it seemed to affirm everything you’ve been doing with your life till now? When you get that unexpected answer from the universe after years of begging questions… I had a moment like that today. To say I feel tickled would be both apt and understated.

Story goes, I’d been asked by a neighbor to watch her two girls for a couple hours in the afternoon. I picked them both up and walked them back to my apartment, just a few grassy knolls away. As soon as we stepped inside, the youngest asked if she could watch TV. While I’m not against television entirely, I thought we should see what could be made of the beautiful weather and the playground that is literally ten paces outside my front door (I didn’t pick this apartment so much as it seems to have picked me). Without demanding it, I simply asked the girls if they wanted to play out on the playground and they both eagerly agreed. I grabbed my skateboard just in case they were curious. Part of me said, no, that’s dangerous they’ll get hurt! while another part of me reasoned, you’re here to watch them and can handle any accidents. I’m glad the latter part won out because it was right. Much of what I’ve been reading in literature on play suggests that some risk is essential for growth and learning. I’ve been a firm believer in the small-risks method of play since I was very young. Having been through the scrapes, cuts and tumbles myself, I can confidently say they made me more aware of my own body, abilities and surroundings. If you have seen a playworker in action or read anything about “adventure playgrounds” you’ll know that these small risks are an everyday part of the playground experience. A playworker gives children the space to play on their own and take small risks, but is there to respond quickly in the event of an accident. Having learned a little bit about this play style, I took on the responsibility of an improvisational playworker. I earned my fair share of scrapes and bruises from skateboarding in the past, and knew it was highly likely they’d get a little banged up, but were unlikely to get severely injured, especially if they were just scooting around on fairly level sidewalk.

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I started by showing them how to push it around. Once they got the hang of that I showed them how to sit or lie down on it and propel it with their feet. They enjoyed these weird skating methods, but they knew better. “Show us how to skate for real!” they demanded.

“Alright, this is how I do it.” I didn’t have to take it far at all for them to be impressed. The youngest was completely awestruck by my simple feat and spent hours trying to perfect her skating skills. “How do you stand on it?” she asked. “With two feet,” I said. “How do you make it move?” was the next obvious question, to which I replied, “Take one foot off and push the ground with it.” She was a natural! I never expected her to take any more interest in that thing other than to kick it around the sidewalk, but she was gliding like a pro in no time.image

So did they get hurt? Sure! But nothing more than a scrape, and possibly a bruise or two. I was as proud as any father would be with how they handled it too. The youngest scraped her forearm a little on the sandpaper surface while she and her sister were tugging on it in opposite directions. I could tell by the look in her eyes she was preparing for a full-on tantrum, so I simply asked her to show me her arm. No blood, just tiny white scrapes. I rubbed the area with my hand to soothe the burn and said, “Looks great! You’re a tough kid!” The tantrum in her eyes was nowhere to be found. She cracked a big smile and went right back to boarding. The highlight for me of her first run of skateboarding was when she kicked the fin to lift the board, grabbed the trucks and tucked the skateboard under her arm – like a real boarder! I didn’t even show her how to do that! She’s going to break some skater boys’ hearts in high school, I just know it.

imageWhile the youngest was preoccupied with scooting around on the board, her sister and I started digging in the sandy storm-drain area nearby the playground. For a while now I’ve been observing a trend where the $10,000 worth of play equipment on the playground gets used for 15 minutes out of every day, while the practically FREE pit of sand and gravel gets used for hour-long stretches at a time (or more!). This sends a pretty powerful, and clear message – one I hope to explore in future posts. The eldest and I started digging with our hands, but quickly realized this would be an arduous task if done for too long. I ran inside and grabbed three garden trowels to make quick work of our dig venture. We made all kinds of shapes with the moist sand we gathered from underneath the surface. All the while asking each other what this part was supposed to be or what we should add next. Her mind went immediately to a wall-village, in which all the inhabitants lived inside parts of the wall. “This part is the school for making money!” “This is the playground!” “This is the garden, so we need to add flowers!” and add flowers we did as her mother showed up.

Now this could have easily been the moment where a more worrisome mother might’ve had a fit at my letting the girls get all dirty playing in the sand or riding around on a skateboard. Instead, she was shocked at how happy her kids looked. The youngest immediately called her mother’s attention, showing her how she could move around on the skateboard with one foot. Her mother’s eyes widened, and I waited for her to tell her to be careful or to stop. Instead, she looked right back at me and explained why this was amazing. Evidently, the youngest had great trouble learning to walk not so long ago, and to see her moving confidently around on a skateboard was nothing short of a miracle. Apparently all she needed was a little inspiration, space and freedom to make short work of miracles.

Mom was equally impressed with the wall-town the oldest and I were diligently at work on. It’s not everyday she gets to see an adult and child making fun shapes and imaginary universes in the sand, though I do hope this changes. I explained that wetter sand holds together better, which makes shaping it easier. With mom now at hand, and with her interest thoroughly peaked, we got the go-ahead to add water to the mix! The youngest even stopped skateboarding to join us for this next part.

We used a water spigot on the side of a nearby apartment to fill a big orange plastic bowl full of water. First, mom dumped a bowlful into a small canal she and the youngest had dug with their trowels. We watched it travel down the canal and into a deep pocket, where it slowly sank into the ground below. When it emptied, they added another big bowlful. After a few sideways glances, they got the idea to expand their invention, and so began their great Maplewood Canal Project!

What isn’t pictured here is how intricate their work became! At its peak they had constructed a high pool for pouring in fresh water. It would run from this high pool down a channel, hook right, then hook left and descend quickly where it would hook left again and cascade into a huge pit. Once the pit filled up, the water would spill over into another channel where it traveled down an underground tunnel we dug earlier in the day which exited out into the terminal pool. At various points, the children added stone roofs atop the channel as decoration. While working, they found a spaceship-shaped piece of wood and used it as a boat in their canal.

In the end, what was intended to be a short hour and a half watching the neighbor’s kids turned into a five hour long romp in the sand and sun. We all learned a lot and, more importantly, we had a bunch of fun! Their mom looked so proud of her girls, and they looked pretty pleased with themselves too. After all, they accomplished a lot! I can only imagine how this kind of experience on a regular basis would help them grow into bright, confident teenagers. I look forward to our next adventure together, and I wonder too, how well we accommodate the play-needs of teens. More on that in a future post.


“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

–Alan Watts


Plans for Growing Ludic Lands

At the moment I am in the process of compiling the many resources on play that I currently have at my disposal. As I work, this site will likely go through a number of structural changes while I try to find a design that accomodates my vision for an intuitive sharing experience. I want to make the process of finding information on play as simple and painless as possible. While I make these changes I am open to any advice or ideas you may have for improving this site.

My current plans include:

  • A list of online websites and blogs on play, organized by theme
  • A list of books I have read and find useful, with a personal review and link to each respective author’s website (as of my writing this you can find one I’ve completed in the Books link in the menu above)
  • A list of books I hope to read, with reasons I suspect they will be informative
  • An annotated bibliography of research and what their findings suggest
  • A blogroll with scheduled updates on different subjects, including open discussions to engage this blog’s audience – which is basically anyone interested in play
  • Personal projects and design sketches (I’m still unsure of whether I should use the blogroll for this or the Portfolio category in WordPress – I will experiment)

Possible additions pending collaborator interest and funding:

  • Podcast discussions (these can be expensive to host and get equipment for – i.e. microphones that don’t sound like a cell phone recording)
  • Interviews with designers, researchers, and other advocates of play (if you are interested in contributing, please let me know!)

Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months. There’s plenty to come!


“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”

–Roald Dahl


 

The Ludic Lands Introduction

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We are all born to play. Fortunately, some of us never learn to stop.


What is This?

An archive of play; with musings on place.

The vision I have for Ludic Lands is firstly to archive, for an audience beyond myself, a compendium of resources I find helpful in understanding the phenomena of play in all its measures. Secondly, because play happens in places, and those places are important, I endeavor to understand the characteristics inherent in quality play-places. These take names and forms innumerable, but are one and the same: places we play.


For Whom?

Parents, teachers, politicians, designers, children, adults, students, gamers, athletes, singles, couples, myself and you!

Play is unbiased. It is a part of all of us. It needs you, and you are exactly who this site is for. I aim to connect people who are passionate about play. No matter if you’re a famous play-guru or a hermit with opinions! Ludic Lands is not a showcase of my thoughts alone. I am here to share, and hope you will reciprocate. We are a community of caretakers, opiners, philosophers, historians and archivists – each of us also players. Together we will learn how to bring more play into our lives and the lives of others, so that we may enjoy them more fully.


Me?

A passionate proponent of perpetual play. Environmental scientist. Student of landscape architecture.

Once upon a not-so-distant decade, a child was born to proud and loving parents. Father taught the child to respect the Earth; to explore its mysteries; and to unlock its secrets. Mother encouraged the child to believe in fairies; to chase after dreams; and to paint the world brightly with wishes. The child grew curious, happy and bold when Brother floated down on a thread of fate and taught his sibling that there was more to life than oneself; that it is important both to follow and to lead; and that we get to (read: we are privileged to) carry one another. And in the crucible of time, with a fortune of friends and plenty of play, this concoction begat the author here.


Goals?

Grow. Explore. Learn. Muse. Share.

At its inception, Ludic Lands is the catalyst upon which I hope to position our communal knowledge of play and place and reconfigure it into an accessible, curated playfolio. I envision Ludic Lands carrying on into my professional career as a playscape designer and in its later life becoming a beacon of inspiration for aspiring facilitators of play.


“Your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they’ve been. You have to be careful when playing is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. You have to break them of their habits or you don’t explore, you only play what is confident and pleasing.”

–Tom Waits