Professional play: The social 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 classical 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 social aspect, and how it benefits adults, even if they are dead-serious and doesn’t play anymore.

Why the social aspect of play is important

Broken down, the social aspect of play is such an important part of any play-related activity. This is true for both play, games, sports, and any other event who has some sort of “play” in it. Admittedly, play doesn’t have to be a social activity. You can play (games or freely) on your own. The social aspect however is still such a crucial part of most play, that it ought to be mentioned.

Play is a reason (Or a push) to get out, meet people, and be social on your own preferred terms.

Whether you meet up with your tennis team, play Overwatch online with your friends, game in a guild, go to a deserted forest and do hardball, go dancing or something like that, you socialize with other people.

social aspect of play

These meet-ups are informal and you do something with others. You don’t have to sit awkwardly and search for a good conversation topic. You are here in the circle of play here and now with other people. And when you’re done, you can talk about the play and the experiences you just experienced together. No need to talk about the weather. You all know that you’re doing this playful activity together because it interests you. And there’s your conversation subject for the next 3 hours.

Closeness and enduring hardships together through play

In my post about the physical aspect of play I talked about how physicality brings people closer to each other. There is another dimension to this bonding experience that goes beyond the “simple” notion of being physically present or close to other people. The more social phenomenon of enduring something challenging with others also provides bonding. I’ve tumbled through cold forests in the very late hours of the night in a make-believe LARP world with people who’ve become my friends for life. We were scared and stressed, but only kind of, since we knew it was all just a game. We endured something together in a safe environment, and share that experience. That’s given us a bond. My colleague Andreas is a cross-fitter, and he told about how he feel the same way with his training buddies. They also endured hardships together, and even if it was self-imposed, they bonded. People who’ve been in the army together have that bond.. the list goes on.

social aspect of play

It might sound like it has to be a crazy-tough physical situation before bonding occurs. It doesn’t have to be. At all actually (Though I suspect it helps.. or kick-starts the bonding if you will).

At my current workplace there is a certain table reserved for a gang of people who are dead-serious about football. It’s not “reserved” per se, but we all know that they usually sit there, so the table is left alone. They meet up 10-15 people across different projects and job types, and talk about matches, players, and anything football-related. It’s lovely. They rarely play the actual game together, they just share a common starting point because they’re all in a social environment centered on football.

So in short, play is a magnificent way to socialize with other people. It gives you a common starting point, something to talk about, and the shared experiences brings you closer together.

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