19 February 2011

Play in its Purest Form

Recently I have been thinking of child's play. Linda Stone posed the open question How did you play? to prod her readers to reminisce about play as a basis for exploring our emotional profile.
"...a person’s purest emotional profile—temperament, talents, passions is reflected in positive play experiences from childhood. If you can understand your own emotional profile when it was in its purest form, you can begin to apply it to your adult life."

~Stuart Brown, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Quote via Linda Stone's blog
Like many children, I reveled for hours in a controlled world of my own invention. I imagined casts of characters. I gave my characters names, physical attributes, and mental profiles. I interacted with my characters, communicated with them, interviewed them, and challenged them in physical contests of sport.

Mini Football
Mini Football was a front yard contest. I played quarterback, receiver, and running back - as myself, or as one of many imaginary personas in my league.

I would drop back, toss the ball, then leap and extend my fingers to receive the pass. I'd pull the ball into my chest before falling to the snow-dusted front lawn. Or as a ball carrier, I'd juke-step, then sharply cut and dive for the first down.

I maintained lists of all the teams, player's names, and statistics on paper I stored in a 1960s era cookie jar that mimicked colonial crockery. Statistics were detailed - team standings and individual statistics like receptions, touchdowns, and field goals.

I would often interview the players. I was both interviewer and interviewee. Sometimes I would interview myself.

Foundation Baseball
Foundation Baseball was back yard contest where, kneeling on the grass 10-15 feet from the foundation of our house, I would pitch a sponge-rubber baseball so it would hit the ground 5-20 inches in front of the foundation then ricochet off the foundation.

Depending on the angle the pitched ball hit the ground, the ricocheted ball would be a popup or a grounder I would deftly field.

I imagined fastballs, curves, and knuckle balls. Often I had to extend upward from my knees to dive for a popup.

Again, I kept lists of all the teams, player's names, and statistics stored in the same faux colonial cookie jar.

Waste Basket Hoops
Waste Basket Hoops was a bedroom contest. I attached a waste basket hoop above the curtain rod in my bedroom just high enough that I could perform hellacious slam dunks.

The basketball contests also generated various statistics I kept track of for each player like field goals, free throws, rebounds, blocks and assists.
I played all positions - a ballet of multi-persona teamwork.
Head Shrink Fodder
I maintained the lists of teams and players in that cookie jar long after I was too old to be seen playing an imaginary game. Waste basket hoops could be played in the privacy of my bedroom, so these imaginary contests lasted well into puberty.

Given my childhood world of imagining a controlled world entirely of my doing where statistics were generated, tracked, valued and perused in a way that's both plausible and absurd, I am uncertain what it says about my emotional profile. Insecure? Cerebral? Emotionally detached? Creative? Controlling?

Whatever it might say about my emotional profile, it is reassuringly consistent that now, in my free time, I find myself conjuring up statistical contest software based on earth time-series phenomena like earthquakes and wave height.


  1. Weren't our tennis matches beneath the Montana summer sky formative to you? They definitely were for me.

  2. Anonymous, Lance W. Vail - Yes. I have fond memories of those tennis matches.


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