Experts have long been studying the benefits of gaming for children, and the evolutionary logic is undeniable.
The game introduces and perfects practical skills such as hunting, cooking, building, childcare, and health care. Playing doctor? Cops and thieves? Etc.
Play teaches children social boundaries. If you are kind enough, but not too kind, you can go your own way without being a push or turning off potential friends.
The game teaches you to cooperate. If you don’t play well with others, others won’t play with you. This is not fun.
The game makes the body stronger, faster and fitter.
Play is very important for a child’s development. The benefits are well established. Trust science. But what about adult gaming?
Play for adults
Talking about adult playtime often makes your eyes twinkle and claims of self-indulgence. Adults are adults, after all. We don’t need to learn to cooperate, set social boundaries, or develop new skills. We’re supposed to pay the bills, go to work, do the housework, and read the business section of the morning paper. We don’t have time to play with fun and games. Right?
That’s ridiculous, of course. Humans are one of the few animals that retains our ability and predilection to play into adulthood. Most other animals, even someone close to us like the chimpanzee, retract into “dignified” old age as the years go by. We’ve all seen the lush teenage chimpanzees pissing at the zoo while the gray elders sit in silence, almost embarrassed to be seen in the same room as them.
Stuart Brown is a psychologist who has spent decades studying gambling and applying its benefits to both personal therapy and business optimization. He is one of the few experts who has focused his study on the role of play throughout the life cycle. Throughout his career, he has studied play in various cultures and historical eras, and compared the play patterns of children and adults in both human species and different animals. He says gambling is a “deep biological process” and presents evidence the game continually shapes the human brain throughout our lives.
In his book, Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul, Brown suggests that we are a unique species in this regard. Many experts in fields as diverse as biology, anthropology, and psychology have written about human neoteny, the extension of many “juvenile” traits into adulthood. We keep our baby faces (relatively speaking). We have an unprecedented long period of childhood of almost 20 years. More importantly, however, we retain an early interest in exploring, experimenting, and retouching our environments long after adults of other species have settled into the serious business of instinctive routine. Although we had our own survival to make sure in the same harsh circumstances, we maintained the juvenile tendency to push the envelope in a way that other adult mammals did not. According to Brown, the cognitive and creative benefits of human neoteny are continually derived from our lifelong inclination toward play and experimentation. Our ability and tendency to play into adulthood is a great reason why we are so successful as a species.
Why should adults play?
Primitive life, of course, shows us that the optional and seemingly accidental things with which our species evolved are not really optional. Prehistoric and ancient humans never “dieted,” but the diet available set the tone for our physiology. We never “fasted”, but we didn’t always have food available. We didn’t “do cardio,” “lift weights,” and “run sprints,” but the requirements of daily life required us to stay active, move heavy things, and run very fast. As such, we cannot ignore anything in which our species evolved by becoming involved. It is still relevant today. The same goes for gambling, although the benefits seem more intangible.
Benefits of adult gaming
So what are the benefits of adult gaming?
Play reduces stress. Participating in milder non-indicated acute stressors is a great way to mitigate the effects of more intense and chronic stress than you can avoid.
Physical play is an exercise without strength, determination and willpower. The physical game is to exercise without realizing that you are exercising. Needless to say, there are actually some articles published about the benefits of “playful” exercise, such as dance. In older adults, dance has been shown to improve bone mineral density, aerobic power and capacity, balance, propensity to fall, flexibility, gait, and agility. And even though this hasn’t been studied academically to my knowledge, dancing with a romantic partner improves your sex life.
The game makes sense in itself. You are not lifting weights to achieve the desired weight in the future or arm circumference; you are playing because to play is to be committed to time as it flows through the present. And like other significant physical activities, the physiological benefits are far greater.
Play increases social cohesion. suggests Brown play has been crucial to the social cohesion of our communities.all the way from the first life of the tribe to the present day urban life. Play, Brown argues, allowed us to organize into more complex social groups, which further enhanced our potential for survival. You can see this happening right away. Gather a closed group of adults and force them to play tag or dodge and in ten minutes they will laugh and exchange phone numbers.
When we accept the game, we demand a better quality of life for ourselves. We decrease Stress. We connect better with those around us. We go out more and make the most of what we do. We find more fun and maybe even meaning. And we do a great workout. For us adults, however, does play make sense as a therapeutic counterpart to the rampant stress and social distance in our society? Is it just a better and more fun way to exercise and make friends? Or is there a deeper and inherent impulse, a timeless impulse that even Grok would he have answered himself?
The true power of the game
We are without a doubt the most adaptable species. We are able to live anywhere on earth, and we have wandered through distant and inhospitable lands long before modern comforts made these environments easier to resist. We are continually adapting, exploring, changing, reinventing our roles and our interactions with our environments, throughout our life cycle. As Brown explains and I did explained in the past, We have a capacity for cognitive, social, and behavioral plasticity that drove the evolution of our species and still lives within us today..
Playing in this sense is not a fun part of our lives, but a complex and unique commitment to it.with the people and things that populate our environments, the circumstances and the challenges that lie in our lives. Children, psychologists tell us, use the game as a backdrop to process difficult emotions and new scenarios. They continually test their own developmental adaptations and new discoveries within the safe and experimental play space. And, as anyone who has watched children play knows, they throw themselves into it and don’t look back. They are 100% committed to the built scenario: random team affiliations, imagined roles, fantastic scenarios. In short, playing is fun and beneficial because they create it — and feel it — as real.
A childhood friend of mine had this big, crazy, dumb guy gos with whom we would always play. He had short legs and weighed in while running, but he would do anything to keep us up to date. One of our favorite games when we were closed on stormy days was getting the dog chasing us around the house. We would do well and we would get angry at one end of the house and then run to the opposite end where we would jump on the couch, grab the pillows to protect ourselves and wait for the dog to come jumping towards us.
There was a physical appearance, of course. Running around the house helped burn off excess energy and increase aerobic capacity, yes. Dodging and throwing ourselves developed our agility, of course. The real meat of the game, however, was the chase itself: that big dog barking and drooling on our heels. Even though we knew the dog would not hurt us, we were on a deep, ecstatic level running to save our lives. We laughed every time that dog came running and felt the adrenaline rush inside.
When I saw my kids play catching the flag years later, it was clear that their enjoyment also had little to do with exercise itself. Sure, kids love to be in constant motion, but there was something else. The real playground of my children was the deep emotional investment. It is the feeling of risk and power, of stupidity and absurdity, of the alternating edges of fear and relief, loss and triumph. How many of us feel this level of emotional investment in anything these days?
This is what many of us lose as adults: freedom of play, pure liberation. We can force ourselves to play frisbee in the backyard, dress our children’s dolls for their last tea party, or even join a summer baseball league or a pottery class, but too often we are just going through the motions.
To get the most out of genuine gaming, we have to surrender to the game. We have to immerse ourselves so much in the game that it ceases to be a game. It has to be real, even if only for a few moments. Neglecting the actual game has its consequences. Without play, we become creatively rigid over time like adult primates. We continually reduce the field of our cognitive reflections, our social interactions, and physical life. The choice has inevitable consequences for our emotional well-being, our practical resilience, and our creative potential.
How can I play?
I play Definitely Frisbee every week. We’ve been doing this for over a decade. It is the perfect combination of intensity, strategy, competition, camaraderie and athleticism.
I play with my granddaughter. Nothing better than that.
How are you? How are you playing these days? How do you take advantage of this intense feeling?