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The Purpose of Play

Adults tend to think that “play is for kids”, even when they are taking a day off to play tennis or golf, or do crosswords at their desks, instead of working on that proposal due next week.

All intelligent species, that is, species wit h brains, play. But only humans consider “play” to be different from “learning”. Adults only “play” when they’re not “working”, supposedly; but in the animal world, including human animals, play has a clear link to learning and survival.

In fact, play is learning to survive. Games are a way to learn essential survival skills, and so are human games, believe it or not.
Watch how dogs and cats play: you can see that they are learning to stalk and pounce on their “prey”, even if it is a ball of twine. Two puppies or kittens playing “stalk”, and “pounce” on each other is the animal kingdoms version of “Playing Army” or “Cops and Robbers”.

Human adults play games that are as mentally challenging as much or more than they are physically challenging. Even those “games” that require physical strength and agility, such as “team sports” like baseball or football, there is an element of what is necessary in human culture: “teamwork”, recognizing “friend from foe” and “survival” by “winning the conflict”.

The complexity of human games reflects the complexity of human culture. And our games are merely tutorials of what we face every day as adults. Hunting is now a “sport” not a necessity”, at least not in the more civilized and advanced human societies.

Our games reflect our conflicts. Basketball, baseball, soccer, and football are wars between cultures, with their own uniforms, traditions, heroes and villains.
Sport is War, disguised as play and entertainment; and War has always been the ultimate “game”.