The illusion of control

What is the opposite of play? …the opposite of playing an infinite game? I can’t think of a better candidate than the desire for control. My desire for control—when it rears its ugly head—stems from insecurity. (But let’s leave my insecurity for another day.) When I grasp for control I start trying to prepare for every contingency. When I grasp for control I start trying to control the contexts around everything I’m doing, everything I’m experiencing, and how others see me. And when I don’t grasp for control, I’m able to play.

The site you’re reading, Raptitude, is essentially an attempt to convey certain kinds of embodied knowing, having to do with the subtleties of being human, rather than driving a car or doing long division. I’m trying to get people to have some of the same perspective shifts I’ve had.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2023/04/knowing-is-doing-not-remembering/

Experiencing that embodied knowing is what I enjoy about conversation. It’s not vacuous, and it’s not an attempt by me to control. It’s play, and it’s learning.

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Affordances

The issue with play structures is that they train you to play only within affordances. When the space that you play in is designed by someone else, you are pushed towards playing only in the ways that they envisioned. A play structure affords a small set of actions, and as a player, you only get to pick which one you prefer. There’s no invention in that, no spontaneity, no creativity.

Let’s think about how this applies to adults. If you show an adult a library of video games, they can pick one and click the “play” button. But show an adult a meadow with trees to climb and grass to roll around in, and they will write it off as unplayable (unless they are with friends, and typically playing a standard game with standard rules).

~ Alex Hollow from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/oy8xbZ8s8v8PDdCZ3/playing-without-affordances

Understanding this (if you don’t already) will bend your mind, in a good way. People who understand what Art du Déplacement is, talk about developing a new kind of “vision”. It’s hard to describe what this new vision is—perhaps I can say, it’s like seeing motion… or, where normal vision can induce a mood, this new kind of vision can suggest a movement. I went to a show recently, and sitting in the balcony before the house lights went down, my wife and I had a completely serious discussion of “how do you get down from here [without using the obvious stairs]?” At other times we stop to play on things. I regularly walk along curbs and swing from things I find overhead.

It’s not that things lack affordances. No, there are affordances everywhere… in, on, around, under, throughout every object natural and man-made. If you lose—as it seems everyone does as they‘re forced grow into adulthood—your vision for playing, only then does it appear that affordances are missing.

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Rediscovering movement

Play is a big part of our lives as children, but why do we lose our playfulness as we age? I talk a lot about the emotional and physical aspects of play, especially regarding Positive Ageing and aspects of Parkour. So many people feel like play is out of reach as they approach midlife, even though it’s an innate part of you.

~ Julie Angel from, https://julieangel.com/discovering-the-power-of-play-in-midlife/

Angel doesn’t write often, but when she does it’s something nice like this. I just want to say that physical movement and play are inseparable—without the former, you’re not really doing the later.

Or, perhaps I just want to say two things; That first thing, and that Angel is the film–maker who created my favorite video to share when people ask me, “what is parkour?” Movement of Three.

Actually, I want to share three things: Those two things, and Julie if you’re reading: OMG the cannoli!

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Play more

Play more. I feel like people are so serious, and it doesn’t take much for people to drop back into the wisdom of a childlike playfulness. If I had to prescribe two things to improve health and happiness in the world, it’d be movement and play. Because you can’t really play without moving, so they’re intertwined.

~ Jason Nemer

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How you play

If life is a game, how do you play it? The answer will have a huge impact on your choices, your satisfaction, and how you achieve success.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/02/finite-and-infinite-games/

There are of course some games simply not worth playing. (For example, Global Thermonucler War, which is, “[a] strange game. The only winning move is not to play.“) For most of my life I’ve thought of games as something I first decided to do—”let’s play a game!”—and then sorted out what sort of game—board games, tag, charades, etc.. Even sports games worked this way; “I feel like playing baseball…” and then round up my friends, or “I feel like getting good at baseball and playing a lot…” and then join a league. In all the cases, the game itself was the point.

Then, back around 40 when I was busy rediscovering movement, I realized that one could start by having a goal, or an idea one wanted to explore, and then one could deploy games as the vehicle for accomplishing that. On the one hand, it’s still fun to simply play for play’s sake, but it’s empowering to have fun playing while intentionally accomplishing something of your own choosing.

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Playfulness

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as if nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with one another, we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcomes of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for unlimited possibility.

~ James Carse

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Risk

Risk gives you choice, and it gives you opportunity to explore and challenge yourself. Risk is a choice, and you have to learn how to negotiate acceptable and unacceptable risks in our lives. Play is a very safe space to learn how to do that.

~ Caitlin Pontrella

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I keep trying to rearrange my efforts so I can spend more time re-experiencing the hundreds of terrific conversations I’ve experienced. Every single time I manage to find time to go back in, I find something wonderful. That quote is from episode 4 of the Movers Mindset podcast—it wasn’t even called that back then. It was a wonderful, chaotic, ramble of a conversation long before I realized the magic of conversation.

I keep thinking: Have great conversations and get them recorded. Get those conversations recorded so they can be heard by others is the most important part. I have a million other ideas about how to extract meaning, share the best parts, find threads and themes that run across large scales of people and times and …

My hope is that if I simply keep having great conversations, everything else will take care of itself.

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Gateway to possibility

Why is play so powerful? Johnson explains that “humans — and other organisms — evolved neural mechanisms that promote learning when they have experiences that confound their expectations. When the world surprises us with something, our brains are wired to pay attention.”

And the whole point of play is to be surprised. The unknown factor is part of what entertains us. Play is a gateway to possibility.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2017/08/value-play-driver-innovation/

Have you seen the movie, Inception? There are a pile of mind-bending perspective shifts in there… something like a dolly-zoom, a long music descent, a rotating set that obliterates our sense of reality as the actors fall to the ceiling, that look on their face, M C Escher learns to use modern CGI for a city street scene . . . you get the idea.

surprise
unknown factor
gateway to possibility…

My understanding of what play is, and why we’re drawn to it, has fundamentally shifted.

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