The Importance of Play

Last summer, the world was overwhelmed by the phenomena of Pokémon Go. For those of you unfamiliar, Pokémon Go is a free location-based cell phone game that invites users to collect digital monsters.  It has become commonplace to witness multitudes of people walking around metropolitan areas and parks staring at their phones, while playing Pokémon Go. Then, reports began to pour in with people attributing physical and mental health benefits to playing the game. This raises the question of whether the game designers are secret life coaching geniuses or if these users are experiencing a placebo effect.

The main advantages of Pokémon Go are magnificent in their simplicity, which is that the game is able to keep adults and children alike, engaged in the fundamental tasks of play. This simplicity leads people to open up to one another around a common interest and may cause them to interact more with others when they otherwise may not have.

Everyone knows that play is important in childhood, because play is how children process and make sense of their world.

Which begs the question, is play necessary in adulthood?  In short Yes!

What is play?

Philosopher and author Bernard Suit describes play as “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”

The online Oxford dictionary defines play as “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

I believe Jill Vailet best describes how to identify what play means in her 2012 Ted Talk; “Play is like pornography. You know it when you see it.”

Why should we play?

Play can change how we engage in an experience and how easily we are able to engage with other people. The benefits of play as an adult include relief of stress, increased creativity, feelings of well-being, problem solving, and a sense of connections with others in the world around us.

In terms of stress relief, play is fun and triggers our body to release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins encourage an overall sense of comfort and have also been known to temporarily relieve pain.

Play assists with the developing and improving social skills. As adults, we continually refine verbal communication, body language, boundaries, cooperation, and teamwork skills through play and playful communication. Play also allows adults to break down barriers and improve relationships with others. There are many adults that utilize games, such as, Words with Friends, Mario Run Ruzzle, Candy Crush, 2048, and Two Dots to maintain loose daily social contacts with friends.

Play can heal emotional wounds. As adults, playing together, engages us in the same patterns of behavior that shape our brains as children. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

How to play?

You can play on your own, with a pet, but for the greater benefits, play should involve at least one other person. You can play puzzles, word games, trivia, card games, board games, or any other kind of game that encourages social engagement.

There are also games, such as Superbetter, which are designed to help achieve reduction in depression, anxiety and with weight loss by helping to gather a support system and creating small measurable quests leading to your success in your mission.

The most import thing is just to try and make sure you follow your joy.

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