Spiritually Speaking: Play Time, Part 2

By the Rev. Connie Seifert

Play time is over. Vacation ended yesterday. I didn’t get to play any games of miniature golf but I did win several games of Hearts, Scrabble and one game of Life. Remember that old board game? Now it is computerized and loads of fun to play. I ended the game with more than $6 million in the bank, a house with $1 million, a Ph. D., a best selling novel and a sub-compact car. I earned most of my money because early on in the game I discovered a cure for baldness which gave me $900,000, leaving the other players eating my dust for the rest of the game.

Each player gets a credit card which you slide into the little computer on your turn. It keeps track of your salary, your taxes, appreciation and depreciation – all the math of all the money matters you encounter. It also deducts 10% of your income per child. It also allows you to go as deep into debt as you wish. At one point I was a million in debt. That cure for baldness sure paid off. If you want a good family game, the new game of Life is fun to play for hours and hours. One game could last for days and days. You decide on how many turns you want to play and tell the computer. It keeps track, tells you when the game is done and converts all your dollars to Life Points at the end to see who wins. Enjoy!

In my family, Monopoly was always popular. We did play this for days on end. The game would be set up on a card table and we’d just keep playing until all but one player was bankrupt. I didn’t win too many games of Monopoly but I loved to play it. Those house and hotels were easy to buy and build. Chance and Community Chest cards could make or break you. And we played that all our fines would go under the Free Parking corner instead of into the bank. When you landed on Free Parking, you got to keep whatever money was there. I liked the green properties best. They were good income and had lots of visitors. I always kept a “Get Out of Jail Free” card too. You never knew when that was going to come in handy. A similar board game which we still love to play is Careers.

Word games, board games and card games – these were an essential part of our social life while growing up. Somewhere around 12 or 13, we could join in the adult games and no longer be forced to play outside with the little kids. Dad used to play pitch with us at breakfast on Saturday mornings. Mom would play Scrabble anytime anywhere. Company came to us or we went to visit most Saturday evenings. Adults played Pinochle marathons. We children were left to our own devices. Sometimes we played board games, some times we made up our own games and eventually we would all fall asleep while the adults played on.

Stuart Brown, the president of the National Institute for Play (\Yes, there really is such a thing!) contends that play is essential for the growth and development of our brains. Pretty heavy duty responsibility for such a light-hearted and oh, so easily done enterprise. According to scientific research though, the play that helps our brain the most is full body movement. Our childhood games of playing house may or may not have helped depending on how much pretend housekeeping we did as opposed to rocking the babies to sleep, or sleeping ourselves. Our walks in the woods were unquestionably good for us, body, brain and soul. The benefits of recess time spent on the playground at school are harder to calculate.

Hopefully, we all have a few younger years to look back on as “play’s good old days.” In our minds, we may idealize play – remembering only the good. Or we may demonize play – remembering only the bad. My memories contain the whole gamut. There were bullies on the bus and playground whose play was hurtful. I was never among the first ones chosen for those lively games of Dodge Ball or softball. On the other hand I excelled at jump rope and Hopscotch. I resented it when I was assigned “parenting” duty and had to watch my brother and sisters playing. There were lots of fights to break up, little fun for me. On the other hand, I had many hours of solitude in the rock fort I built out along the back fence. Mom would have to send someone to get me. I wasn’t quite out of earshot, but she didn’t know that.

Scientists argue over the ultimate purpose of play. Why they are worrying about this, I don’t know but scientists will research just about anything. Do boys play differently than girls? Are children being damaged by staring at computer screens and video games? Are they missing something when fantasy play is filled with Hollywood’s imaginations rather than their own? These are some of the questions being addressed in current studies. Some think that play is a way that we practice and prepare for future responsibilities. Another theory is that our kaliedoscope of play activities makes us flexible and adaptable to the constant changes life throws at us daily. A few think that play is a luxury afforded only in the good times.

By studying monkeys, cats, rats, mice and even small children, all of the above theories have been both proven and disproven. Most of the play activities of animals are similar to the things they need to do when they grow up. But one study of cats proved that their hunting prowess was equally well developed whether or not they had played as kittens. Adequate play time does not always guarantee adaptability and flexibility. And, even in the concentration camps, children found ways to play proving it is not a luxury. (Check out the book/movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” . Keep the tissues handy. There are lots of tears as well as play.)

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” deals with the innocence of play under the most horrific conditions.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding deals with the whole range of human qualities found in us.
As children most of us crave and carve out spaces where the adults cannot tell us what to do. Golding’s story is a graphic account of what happened to one group of children when they had the world all to themselves. Play can be filled with trust and trickery – often both. Play can deal with truth and lies – usually both. Play can deepen friendships or destroy relationships. I don’t care to study it in depth. I know that all that we do as children contributes to who we become as adults.

As children play time can be a safe haven from the raw reality of the world. It can also be a scary place where we magnify and multiply our worst fears, the world’s greatest evils. There’s a word for the latter – a wonderful word for a terrifying phenomena – phantasmagoria. This is when children’s thoughts run wild and all the chaotic bits of the real world get tumbled together and pulled haphazardly apart in new, sometimes even scarier confabulations. I remember a few of those nightmares. I prefer to keep play a safe haven.

We hear the goodness of play with each joyful squeal of a happy child. We can see the benefits of play on each ecstatic face. We rediscover the world in a childlike way whenever we watch children at their best. We hear the downside of an active imagination whenever we run to comfort a child having a bad dream. We see the dark side of playfulness whenever we have to help a child confront a bully or deal with rejection. Play can mean gobs of goodness incorporated into life at its best, or a tidal wave of evil at its worst.

Scientists can argue over the ultimate purpose and meaning of play for as long as they want. I’m determined to keep on playing – whether they can prove it is good for me or not. I hope to minimize the nightmarish aspects of play, and maximize the protective fun loving aspect of it. I was quite happy to win the games that I did. On the other hand, I do think my sister was having malevolent thoughts especially when I got that $900,000, every time I managed to give her the Queen of Spades in Hearts and every time I got a seven letter word in Scrabble. The past week of play time was pure goodness and fun! It will have to last until the next vacation.

Playmate, I can’t come out with you
My dolly has the flu
Can’t climb your rain barrel
Slide down your cellar door
But we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.