Professional play: The playful aspect of play

In 2016 I organized a workshop on “testing and playfulness” at the software testing conference Let’s Test. These are my summation and thoughts behind that workshop.

In an earlier post I explained the classic set-up of the concepts “play” with how my daughter play-pretends to be a dog. Play is a lot more than play-pretending a dog. In this post I’ll talk about the playful aspect, and how it benefits adults, even if they are dead-serious and doesn’t play anymore.

Why the playful aspect of play is important

This aspect is by far the most arbitrary. The word in itself is a bit silly. “The playful aspect of play”. The playful aspect seems either obvious or superfluous. But since we’ve gone through the physical and social aspects, this last post addresses the parts of play that are harder to fit into the “boxes”. Between the physical and the social parts of playing, something else takes place as well…

Play is by some called a “free” activity. Everybody play, you can play almost anywhere, and there’s not always anything tangible to gain from it. We play perhaps to learn, to socialize, or simply because we’re bored. It’s a drive in all of us, but it’s not really clear WHY we play, or WHAT we gain from every specific play sessions. It’s therefore up to you to find out what you want to gain from it.

playful aspect of play

Play calls for experimentation and exploration for you…

The free form of play allows you to experiment. There is no goal for you to meet. Nothing that you NEED to do. You can change the direction of the play when you feel like it. You’ll probably interact with others, who might influence you and give life to new ideas. You can try different activities, roles or interactions as you please.

Even if you’re not familiar with being a leader or a manager (And the thought scares you), you can try out the role through play. The role you pick, lets you try different social and professional masks. This role can be anything from being a team captain on your soccer team, to pretending to be a war chief at a LARP. You get to have responsibility, but not in a life-or-death way. You get to test what things come natural to you when you try to manage a group of people. You explore what tools you need to use to get people to make your common goal. The things you experienced and learned from the game stays with you. So if you played out a role with a lot of responsibility, you’ve basically trained towards being better at managing a project team.

..And for others

You’re not the only one who can experiment. Play lets you see other people (Like your colleagues) in a different context as well. I’ve once observed a team building event with a group of office-working colleagues who took on roles of different stereotypical family members at a murder-mystery-styled dinner. They were given costumes and a persona/role, and then guided through the evening by the event managers. Afterwards several people remarked that one of their usually quiet colleagues (Who had played as an old, obnoxious woman) really showed a different side. They were surprised to see him outside of his usual element. Because it was a part of the game, the change wasn’t ridiculed. Rather, it was just another side of him that he got to show his colleagues, safely packaged in the costume of an old woman.

playful aspect of play experimentation

Forget feeling awkward – It’ll pass

If, as an adult, you’re not used to “playing”, the activity may seem a bit awkward at first. We’re used to see play as something that only kids do. But to the people involved in the play (let’s call them the other players), your actions are neither weird nor abnormal. To the players that are part of the magic circle that is your play sessions, you are expected to behave according to the game. There’s no need to fear social or professional rejection, because it’s still just a game. No one’s going to lose money or die if you fail or make mistakes. The game world is a safe environment.

And it’s right there for you to experiment with.

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