Playfulness often gets abandoned as we become adults. We slowly turn instead to
passive forms of entertainment or standard conversation, becoming serious adults. But taking ourselves with humor can ease all aspects of life, from important conversations to lighthearted moments. We need to reclaim playfulness and play as a regular part of life.
Though you may have stopped playing, the playful side of you is still there, waiting to be invited back. Inviting an element of play into your gatherings can help everyone loosen up, laugh, and enjoy themselves.
The advantages of play
The value of play likely speaks for itself, but if you need a little nudge, let’s take a closer look.
Energize. Playing can fuel your creative mind, critical thinking, energy, and quick responses. Socially, it can allow for an unstructured, imaginative way of interacting, breaking from the pressures of normal work and responsibilities.
Relax. Conversely, by allowing yourself to play with the happy surrender of youth, you can connect with a forgotten but important part of yourself, and even discover ways of venting frustrations or healing wounds with those around you. Humor can be the best medicine.
Connect. Play can bring you closer to others by helping you getting to know them from a different angle.
Bond. Shared giggling and fun can foster empathy, trust, and closeness. Games can help break the ice with outsiders, relax family in times of tension, and help you see things in a new way.
Reduce Stress. Play is fun and can trigger endorphins.
Learn. Experiential games are often much better ways of learning something new. In playing, we turn theory into practice and live out the lessons for ourselves.
Vent. Play can bring joy, as well as vent feelings of anger, disagreement, and frustration. Channeling our less attractive emotions through play can be a healthy way of processing them through the body.
Collaborate. If you have enough people around during quarantine, you might organize into teams and solve challenges together, learning new ways of working with each other in a fast and collaborative way, building a sense of trust around a new activity.
How to introduce a game
You may want to propose more play in your current relationships, but be unsure of how to begin. Consider inviting them to try something new, and offer one of the games in the following pages.
Here’s how you might start:
1. Explain the purpose of the game, why it matters to you, why you want to play, and what you like about a specific game, or why it’s relevant right now (ie, I’d like to propose we play some games because I’d like to laugh and get to know you better).
2. Explain the scope of the game in one or two sentences. I’ve found that the natural tendency is to start by listing the rules, but if you can resist and instead start by explaining the purpose, followed by the rules, listeners have a much easier time following.(ie, we’re going to play a game about bluffing), and why (ie, because it will get us out of our usual characters).
3. Offer a brief demonstration of the game, and then start.
Ways to Play More
Game night. Organize ongoing game nights. You can play the same, or different games each time. This can be done online or in person. Consider inviting those who are physically close by, to try a different form of interacting.
Outdoors. Invite friends out for a picnic with outdoor games like frisbee, soccer, or volleyball.
Kits. Learn something new, like magic tricks, arts and crafts, and invite friends to learn and practice these together. It’s less intimidating than many games, and a good way to get started. We particularly enjoyed magic classes we took online, and then shared with our families next time we saw them in person.
Connection games. While there are many games out there, and many of them quite fun, I’ve optimized here for games that will help you get to know each other better, or feel closer.
Games like Guess Who, though fun, don’t reveal much about the players– I leave such games without feeling more closeness than when we started.
Instead, I lean toward games that invite people to reveal their thoughts, ideas, views, or share something of themselves. Many games have become available online: board games, card games, mystery games, etc.
Improv games on the other hand, don’t invite participants to share themselves explicitly, but they do create shared experiences, which can be very unifying. Improv games create moments where people have to make quick decisions, or take a risk in trying to act something out. These sorts of games create a common shared memory that can be recalled fondly for years to come. There is a space of vulnerability in acting out something silly, and that can create a moment of bonding for everyone present.