This is an academic essay in the making, but it is also a playful sharing of process and change. It can be viewed as either. Comments and contributions welcome!
The educational importance of play has been identified by people in occupations such as research, teaching, psychology, art, creative business management and science. Developmental experts in education and psychology see play as an important means by which humans and animals learn and develop (play-based learning is now a factor in Early Childhood Education in Australia and elsewhere).
These experts often stress ways in which play is creative and often highly imaginative as artists, arts educators across the spectrum of teaching and learning as well as people in creative industries already know. Imaginative and creative play, coupled with material objects or interacting with the physical world, seems to magic ideas and concepts out of thin air, providing them with space in which to parade and share their uniqueness, while at the same time providing opportunities to educate and challenge. Play can be a lot of fun, although it is not necessarily funny; rather as I tell my arts education students, play is serious business.
Play can also express embodied sensuality and sexuality at all ages and in many forms; including taking on another role or persona. Parents, adults of all sexual persuasions and kinks, sex bloggers, cosplayers and re-enactors, as well as people in the therapeutic sphere and their clients, are well aware of this. This type of play can allow us, as humans, to put aside our habitual masks, and perhaps in donning new ones, feel and be more real and authentic as we inhabit our avatars and release our desires.
Play is more about the process than the end product, so it relies on giving something a go, trying something new, then trying again, because play not only involves creativity, imagination, critically, it involves making mistakes, often repeatedly. It also requires flexible thinking and risk taking, outcomes are not always as we originally envisaged. Time and again I read of people talking about their bodily goals, inhibitions or perceived failures in matters such as squirting, and expressing that in the end they just had to let go of their inhibitions and go with the process in order achieve their desire or to seek alternatives.
So play can be inhibited by parental prohibitions re-enforced by cultural, social and medical pressure or intolerant, unthinking, uncaring, or bigoted thinking and prejudice. The evidence on how traumatic experiences impact on people is huge, and both personal anecdote and academic research suggests it is often characterised by feelings of inadequacy, shame, anxiety and self consciousness all of which impact on our capacity for and enjoyment of play. As a child, exploring our bodies, alone or in tandem with children at the same stage of development is normal, yet adults are often shocked or angry when encountering this. Perhaps this is why I still wonder if the boy who I innocently played Doctors and Nurses with, also still remembers me putting sticks down his pants! I certainly remember the wrath and social stigma visited on me once his parents found out!
Unfortunately adult predation is also often disguised as play, as a damaged adult who was once a traumatised child, finds ways to re-enact their abuse with someone more vulnerable than they are.
Yet play can be healing, although the process is often painfully slow and by no means linear or certain. On-line communities clustered around the many communication forms available including blogs, tweets and photo-sharing allowing us to play, to share our fears and desires with like minded people,and find support and affirmation that we are not alone.