It seems to me as if play has been wholly withdrawn from the idea of being a adult human in modern society. Using myself as an example, it was looked down upon and devalued from a very young age in my childhood, to be replaced with more 'productive' tasks which show ability; swimming and beating other children with speed, musical instruments and being better at a coveted skill than other children, and most importantly, mathematics because being very good at mathematics leads to a better life and so the time after school is spent working on more advanced mathematics. The only time I had to play was playing video games with my friends; this did not require me to leave the house (at least when I was older and the internet was becoming good enough for such things). No wonder I have such a fond attachment to video games, and the world they create, if they were my main source of play. I see it in the dogs I have had the pleasure of spending time with, they play many times a day even to old age. It is built into them, to test boundaries, solve problems and just have fun. It is beautiful and puts a smile on your face every time.
Nevertheless, let us begin with a definition of play that I can agree with, from Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism:
“Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end—whether it’s flying a kite or listening to music or throwing around a baseball.”
Okay, lets pair this with an etymology for the word school. The word school conjures up an academic feeling in my brain, one of hard work, and ticks and crosses, and grades! I would imagine the word school comes from academic work, and centered around education. School originates from the Greek skhole “spare time, leisure, rest, ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” We have stepped far away from that in our modern society, and instead of encouraging play and creativity, Sir Ken Robinson (literature-notes) argues in his TED talks that we in fact, ruthlessly kill it:
> “We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.… Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”
Why? Greg continues on in Essentialism to make a great point about modern corporations. They, and by extension the public education system, were created out of the industrial revolution. The main focus is on the efficiency of mass production of goods and now, services. This is not a particularly, playful situation. Furthermore, much lingo that is still in use today in corporations comes from the militaristic inspiration that early leaders in the industrial revolution took: the word 'company' itself is a word for a military unit. The public education system was created in the 19th century in response to the industrial revolution to create workers; workers would need engineering skills foremost to get the best paid jobs, and artist jobs were not even on the radar (nor are they really today, but that is a different matter).
We have a school system with a hierarchy of subjects as a result; STEM being the most employable and the most respected, and way down at the bottom we have dance and drama. I will admit I was disdained by dance and drama and thought it was a waste of time and yet, every time we had it at school, I very much enjoyed it; I would say much more than maths at the time. I did not think twice about it though, as maths was the real subject and drama and dance are just wastes of time. This is a real shame, and even though I am an extreme example from an immigrant family where these tendencies tend to be magnified, I can't help but feel that I'm not alone. People have many different talents and they deserve to be explored. Play is essential to exploring, but it is also essential in itself. I am sure you have all come across the idea that interdisciplinary ideas usually lead to the great original achievements and breakthroughs. Sure, sitting and practising physics all your life will make you a great physicist, but if you have never even left your university block, how can you know what else is out there? What exciting ideas to work on? What ideas to steal from other fields far removed from Physics, to experiment and see what happens? Play and variety are crucial to a life well lived.
The National Institute for Play in the US, concluded, from their research, that play leads to brain plasticity, innovation, creativity, and adaptability. I would like to add to that list with 'happiness'. An adult tendency to trivialise play and 'to get on with the important stuff' has led to schools full of dissatisfied students working on subjects without a 'why', aiming for jobs because 'that's what everyone else does' and therefore leaving companies full of miserable and aimless humans who end up spend a lot of time garnering for control and power to feel better about their otherwise ambivalent life decisions.
So, go on, go play. Take the time to read a funny book, or listen to your guilty pleasure genre of music, or just run around and do a silly dance. You won't regret it and nor will your creativity.