Viewpoints and Points of View on Play

August 9, 2012 No Comments »

My husband Bob loves to climb.

He loves Up.

Up-hills, up mountains, up trees, up water towers…you name it. Whenever we travel and come to a new landscape, his eyes immediately move toward the horizon and up to the top of whatever land mass may be present. I see him charting a course, finding the way up and around and through in his mind’s eye…his state of play has begun. 

I think he enjoys the top, but for him—it’s about the climb—each footfall making contact—his private conversation with the mountain– full engagement is not without effort.

For some, the way up is the way of bliss.

Bob has a friend, an ultra-long distance runner who habitually refers to crazy-steep inclines not as hills or mountains, but as “viewpoints.” I have to wonder how that changes the experience of getting to the top—“Wow! Great Viewpoint—Let’s go!”

Viewpoints and points of view…on play.

Challenge-as-Play / Play-as-Challenge

As the book “Play” draws to a close authors Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughn consider challenge as a necessary part of real play. Navigating barriers, overcoming obstacles and finding the way through is where the fun lives. We crave challenge and novelty—without it, play isn’t playful.  We need to stretch!

This is true of any kind of play, physical or otherwise, when it gets too easy or too comfortable, smooth sailing leads pretty quickly to boredom.

It’s a kind of evolutionary push/pull with the brain and body. On the one hand we are hard-wired to conserve energy, value comfort, and settle-settle-settle-down into a cozy rut when we can get one. 

But what we really need is just the right amount of “steep climb,” literally and figuratively, to fuel the feeling of fun.

Passive, floating in the pool, is best as a garnish; a splash of color and texture to offset the more satisfying meal of full-on play. 

When that main course is just difficult enough, we get to explore our edge in a way that feels great.

“You have to make it through the discomfort to find the fun” says Brown, “In the end, the good feelings we are left with…are far greater than any difficulty we encountered as we played.”

Challenging play is practice for life. Ideally the distinction between play and everything else gets less clear. If we learn to seek out challenge in play as essential to the fun, we can build resilience for meeting day to day stressors. Then, next time we have to run for a bus, make an impossibly tight schedule, or finesse our way through a crowd, we might find some room to play there too - with all seriousness and determination- and with the space to come out on the other side smiling.

Inviting Play

Here are a few of the authors’ closing suggestions for bringing play back into our lives, no matter what our age or circumstance:

  1.  Take your play history: Reflect on your own best experiences of play. Re-connect to the feelings, emotions and perhaps with the actual activities that have engaged, renewed and delighted you throughout your life.
  2. Expose yourself to play: Opportunities abound…you may be amazed at the numerous ways you can bring playful moments into your day once you pay attention to it.
  3. Give yourself permission to be playful, to be a beginner: Cultivate curiosity, a sense of exploration and willingness to step into play.
  4. Fun is your North Star, but you don’t always have to head north: Start with what feels fun—it’s a reliable guide—and also remember that, “…the really transforming acts of play aren’t purely fun”. Embrace challenge as essential to the satisfaction of play.
  5. Get active: One of the most direct routes to play is movement. We are built to move- it stimulates us at every level and the need for physical activity doesn’t diminish with age.
  6. Nourish your mode of play and be with people who nourish it, too: Practice play. Take the time to connect with your style of play, and create space for it intentionally. Think of play as nourishment – and enjoy!

That’s it for Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. It’s been great reading with you!

Keep Exploring! 

National Institute for Play

Stuart Brown MD

Stuart Brown’s TED Talk: “Play is more than Fun”


© 2012 Centerpoint Network LLC

The content in this blog is for informational purposes, and does not constitute professional advice or treatment for any individual concern or condition. It is not a substitute for psychotherpy or medical care.



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