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On play: an overly heady account of the importance of play…and life in general

Originally published in Design Museum Foundation‘s book Design & Play: Imagination Needs Places to Thrive
Illustration by the wonderful Andrea Cincotta


A young boy throws a ball into Peter’s chest and cries out,


Bouncing off Peter, the ball is caught by a second boy who then releases it to hit Peter in the face, declaring the same,


From one of Steven Spielberg’s crucial directorial works, this iconic scene lays bare the true essence of Peter Banning’s journey. To solve the immense challenge of saving his children, Peter, masterfully portrayed by Robin Williams, must remember what it is like to be a child himself.

He must remember his instinct to play.

Evident in the reference to children, play is an unrestrained release of energy, paramount to development as curiosity is fulfilled with chaotic & innocent exploration. The results excitingly unfold first in discovery and ultimately in the understanding of patterns, rules, inconsistencies, opportunities, and goals.

This constructive importance of play is experienced in nearly all applications, from professional endeavors in science and humanities over to sport and the everyday passage of time. So often the best solutions derive from happy accidents discovered when fooling around with a team as creative energy is allowed to flow unabated.

When preconceptions are discarded, and imaginations are allowed to run like a child released onto the playground, we, like Peter, make the unimaginable a possibility.

Yet the risks of stagnation and complacency increase with time, as a context becomes larger, and the amount of energy greater. Established rules can appear more powerful, and new knowledge cumbersome. Only through continued play can new growth result, new solutions formulated, within and most importantly beyond precedents. Creativity arises, and evolution is sustained through the continuous acceleration of play.

Play is thus, essential to survival.

Oct 29, 2018


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