You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato (427-347 BC)
It is not easy to offer a definition of “Play”. It refers to
- a wide range of behaviors
- it is usually related to children
- it generates happiness or even euphoria, as the Greek philosopher Plato pointed out.
Among all the theories and approaches to Play, we would focus on two ideas:
- its similarity with another restorative psychological process: dreaming.
- its link with a universal activity in every child: jumping (next entry in this web)
Regarding its relationship with dreaming, play implies a mental state in which a person “can be” and “can not be” (or, in other words, “being” and “not being“) at the same time: a child can be seriously playing Indians and Cowboys. He can live with all his intensity being an Indian and act as such for hours and hours without stopping, knowing -at the same time- that he is not an Indian!
If the child acted like an Indian in another context, let´s say, during an academic exam, we would say “this child is crazy!”. There is another place in which playing being an indian is also “safe and secure”: dreams.
This reminds us of Angel Garma´s famous quote: “The great difference between a madman and a sane man lies in the fact that the former acts in real life what the sane limits to his dreams“. Both ultimately share same instincts. However, a healthy person limits these instincs to his dreams, while the schizophrenic or psychopath could act them in real life.
Dreams and play represent mental states where you can act in a safe a secure context or frame– impulses, fantasies, desires, etc … that otherwise would be unacceptable. This possibility has restorative and therapeutic effects since it allows us to digest, assimilate and repair painful and traumatic experiences of our daily life.
Imagine a child being humiliated by a teacher in front of all the other students. He could restore his damaged narcissisim by dreaming or playing. He might dream being the head of the school and firing all the teachers. He also can play Indians and Cowboys and killing all the Whites that have invaded their lands.
It has been found in certain US prisons a high rate of play deprivation during the childhood of many criminals and murderers, as we can see in the following video: