Play Is Everywhere

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Image by Tambako the Jaguar

We play to win. Play to lose. Play to be safe. Play in order to taste danger. Play to entertain. Play to be inspired. Play in order to learn, to escape, to connect, to feel, to socialize, to simulate, to stimulate, to try something new.

Earlier this month, at an event based on a universal love for pIay in Europe's largest entertainment conference in Europe, FMX 2010, I had the good fortune of co-curating with film designer Alex McDowell a day of conversations about the future of immersive design, as a part of a global discussion and community called 5D.

The idea was to bring a truly multi-disciplinary group of creators to play and uncover new thoughts about the emerging world of immersive design and how it might evolve.

The last panel of the day was anchored specifically around the notion of play. It considered how play is once again extending beyond the strict parameters of the game and becoming increasingly relevant to our everyday life.

The 5D play panel at the FMX Conference: Andy Hendrickson, Frank Vitz, Andrew Shoben, T. H. Culhane and Daljit Singh

The panel was lead by media artist Andrew Shoben of, who's public art work embodies and embeds a strong notion of play and humor in the city. It included Electronic Arts' Frank Vitz who's profession is entirely dedicated to facilitating play; Daljit Singh, who brings his unique flavor of humor to strategy and advertising; Disney's CTO, Andy Hendrickson, who's work is entirely play; and T. H. Culhane, who started his career as a clown with the Ringling Brothers Circus, followed by a PhD in Urban Planning, and today travels the world with his wife Sybelle on a National Geographic innovation grant to use new media and the principals of mammalian play to teach the poor how to create urban ecology technologies.

The conversation re-affirmed several thoughts for me.

First, that we're moving beyond the notion of game - a pursuit focused on a scripted journey that has a clear goal of winning - to a model that resembles more of the kind of play we know from playing a musical instrument, where the joy is embodied in the experience itself rather than any particular end goal. Greyworld's projects are all brilliant examples of play in the city that blurs boundaries between clearly defined game time and space, and life. Two lovely examples are Railings and Musica.

Secondly, that play is a fabulous platform for rehearsing, previsualizing and testing, as brought up by T.H. Culhane who points to the fact that animals play – even dangerously – in order to practice skills and train for the unexpected. Read more here.

Thirdly, as Daljit boldly reminded us, we have to liberate our creativity by accepting that when failure inspires knowledge it can also become success.

Not at all lastly, the panel confirmed for me that if we allow ourselves the time to play with ideas and invite our audiences to participate in the conversation, we will forever continue to learn, question and invent. And there is nothing I would love for all of us to continue doing. Always.
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