Unreal Nature

March 27, 2013

Adults Continue to Play

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:00 am

… This freedom and intensity, the fact that the behavior that is so exalting develops in a separate, ideal world, sheltered from any fatal consequence, explains in my view the cultural fertility of games …

This is from Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois (1958; 1961):

… it is seen that play is not at all a meaningless residue of a routine adult occupation, although it eventually perpetuates a counterfeit of adult activity after the latter has become obsolete. Above all, play is a parallel, independent activity, opposed to the acts and decisions of ordinary life by special characteristics appropriate to play. These I have tried to define and analyze at the outset.

Thus on the one hand children’s games consist of imitating adults, just as the goal of their education is to prepare them in their turn as adults to assume real responsibilities that are no longer imaginary, that can no longer be abolished by merely saying, “I am not playing any more.” The true problem starts here. For it must not be forgotten that adults themselves continue to play complicated, varied, and sometimes dangerous games, which are still viewed as games. Although fate and life may involve one in comparable activities, nevertheless play differs from these even when the player takes life less seriously than the game to which he is addicted. For the game remains separate, closed off, and, in principle, without important repercussions upon the stability and continuity of collective and institutional existence.

The many writers who persist in viewing games, especially children’s games, as pleasant and insignificant activities, with little meaning or influence, have not sufficiently observed that play and ordinary life are constantly and universally antagonistic to each other.

[ … ]

… I must affirm that this supposed relaxation [of play], at the moment that the adult submits to it, does not absorb him any less than his professional activity. It sometimes makes him exert even greater energy, skill, intelligence, or attention. This freedom and intensity, the fact that the behavior that is so exalting develops in a separate, ideal world, sheltered from any fatal consequence, explains in my view the cultural fertility of games and makes it understandable how the choice to which they attest itself reveals the character, pattern, and values of every society.

My most recent previous post from Caillois’s book is here.

-Julie

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