Think back to your favorite memories of recess. Try to recall the things you and your classmates pretended to be. Remember the excitement of the swingset. Maybe at some point there was a class-wide game of red light-green light or capture the flag. Even if you were more of an indoor kid, I’m sure you had your favorite crafts or a toy you always made sure to grab. How long ago was that?
We need to play more; it’s good for us physically, socially and mentally, and as college students, we are presented with no better opportunity than now.
Think about it — recess was a means for us to run around, make friends and take a break from work. Games like tag or sharks and minnows make exercise fun, and forming the groups to play them encourages us to meet people and socialize. In this way, play can become the basis for future relationships. It helps that everyone is usually working towards the same goal, unless you’re ‘it’ or the shark. And, with games especially, there is an easily-achievable objective. In the case of these games, it’s to not be tagged.
But outside of a handful of playground games, what does it mean to play? Anne McLaughlin, a professor from the University’s department of psychology, said play is voluntary.
“I would define play as activities that give you a feeling of accomplishment or reward, that don't necessarily have an end goal that feeds one of your basic needs, like making money, eating, drinking,” McLaughlin said.
That feeling of accomplishment or reward is especially important in an environment like college where so much can seem unfamiliar. Taking a break from reading a dense textbook or trying to make sense of your notes to play with Legos or color a mandala is still productive. Allowing yourself a recess is not procrastination — it’s self-care. Recess itself is a break from one’s responsibilities. It’s a way for you to do something you enjoy and focus on just one thing, even if it’s by yourself.
That's the other thing about play: it’s completely subjective.
“It's interesting to look at what play means to individuals, because I think that a lot more things constitute as play than people would necessarily admit,” McLaughlin said. “For example, a relative who's fairly grouchy would say that he does not play. But then he would never miss his weekly poker game.”
Simply put, play is about having fun. This applies to activities you might not be great at as well. Even if you’re not the best table tennis player or painter, you can still enjoy doing those activities. It could be because you like seeing the improvement in your skill, or because the process itself is relaxing. And, again, play provides an opportunity to socialize or be alone.
I’m sure some of this seems awkward. The thought of your roommate watching you play with Play-Doh or passersby staring at your freeze tag game in the Court of North Carolina might be mortifying. But I would argue a college campus is the best place for us to play. It’s a place where we can enjoy the last strands of our youth together and take what we love most into adulthood. After all, play never really leaves us. It may change, but we always do it.
“I think that it's a fairly basic human drive,” McLaughlin said. “I think that you would be hard pressed to find any culture that doesn't have play. If it's that universal, there must be something pretty basic about it.”
Ultimately, play is the chance to have fun. Maybe play for you is writing short stories or maybe it’s spikeball. It could be in your artist group or clubs. But never feel embarrassed to seek it out in a game of hide-and-seek or Connect Four. Just go have fun — I promise you, everyone else wants to play too.
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