How do you put the pieces back together when everything seems to be in bits?
Our whole lives have changed, and it has felt like it happened overnight. One moment we were making plans and following our routine and the next, we were told that the world would no longer be the same. That we would have to get used to a new normal. What that new normal is we still don’t know.
What we do know is that we have been separated. Kept apart from our loved ones and our friends. The important connections that make life special have been severed and the phone calls and zoom meetings are not enough to replace what we had before.
Before the lockdown I had been working on a project based on destruction and creation. It’s a game people can play to change the world around them. I created an object that is designed to break into a hundred pieces. Each player will be given a piece of the object at the end of the game to show that they have taken part. It’s free to enter and the only rules are you have to think of a game that you can play in your community that might make it a better place for the people who live there. Your game has to be free to play and available to anyone of any age or ability to join in with. To give people time to experiment with different ideas, the game will last for a year and each person can dedicate as much or as little time to it as they like. At the end the players will share their stories of what worked and what didn’t with the other players in the game. You don’t stop playing a game because you didn't win and that’s a motivating aspect of being in a play mindset. Things that don’t work are just as vital to learn as things that do because these games may well show new ways that individuals can influence the world around them.
This idea of using play as a way to change the world is not new. Play has shaped the world that we live in, in ways you will be surprised to learn about. In his book Homo Ludens, which means Man the Player, Johan Huizinga explains in detail how play has formed the rules that we use in language, in the Law, in war and in art, music and poetry. He explains that in all play there are a set of rules that people have to follow and that the game will end if someone is found to be cheating. He also says that for something to be considered a game it has to happen in a specific place.
“The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”
There was one specific part of his book that stood out to me and that was in the chapter that talks about play and contests as civilising cultures. In British Columbia, Indian tribes have a custom which is known as potlatch. It is an annual feast where the wealthiest give all of their possessions to the poor. It is a startling idea. A little too startling for the Canadians who made Potlatching illegal in Canada in 1884 in an amendment to the Indian Act, largely at the urging of missionaries and government agents who considered it "a worse than useless custom" that was seen as wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to 'civilized values' of accumulation.
I, however, loved the audacity of it. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Instead of the wealthy storing up their possessions, they demonstrate how rich they really are that they can give them all away and set themselves the challenge to earn them all back by the following year. This keeps a level of freshness and competition going instead of a stagnation of one group having all the wealth and no longer needing to try or come up with new ideas. It gives the poorer people a chance to benefit from the community that they are part of and the opportunity to play in the following year’s game.
I think part of the reason why this idea is at odds with our culture is because we have lost our connection with nature. Every year, there is a period of growth and a period of rest. Things don’t just keep getting bigger and bigger, they need to contract in the winter to get the energy they need for the spring. Instead of sitting around a campfire, sharing stories with each other watching the changing patterns of the stars and the moon we are sitting inside watching stories of other people who don’t seem to have any connection to nature either. We’ve stopped paying attention to what we are eating and how we are feeling and even how we are breathing. All of these things are keeping us apart and making our lives far smaller than they should be but it is hard for us to see this because we have been brought up to believe that success is built up through taking from others, not by giving. The idea that kindness and compassion for others will always win doesn’t need to be outlawed because our culture makes this belief physically impossible.
We do have a form of boom and bust in our society but it always results in the wealth staying in the same hands. Political change is slow and political parties deliberately exclude and pit people against each other. Maybe it is time to rediscover the ancient art of play if we really hope to leave the world a better place for future generations?
For those who feel small, who feel separate, let’s play a game that shows that we are all connected. Let’s pick up all the pieces and put them back together and form a new world that is united through play. I'm not asking you to share your possessions or wealth but rather your ideas, your creativity and your compassion with those around you in a way that will bring joy to your community.
If you are inspired by this idea, get in touch to register your interest. You can be located anywhere in the world and you can enter as an individual or as a team. The pieces are ready and eagerly waiting for the players.