Play – /plā/ verb: Engaging in an autotelic activity that is freely chosen, challenging, requires your full focus on the present moment, and generates feelings of joy, wonder, and self-actualization.

Mike Montague

Recess, art, and music have been systematically removed from schools. Technology and television have filled the free time of adults. And, big data and capitalism have optimized away the value of happiness in favor of work and consumption. I fear that the Metaverse is going to be even less satisfying than what we see now, and it is an epidemic of stress, illness, and depression now!

It has been the marketing and normalization of hard work, more money, and the need for power and respect that gets in the way. We have traded our play and happiness for time savings, shortcuts, things, and status symbols. We have optimized play out of our lives to try to afford the luxuries and happiness promised in advertising. There is no money to be made off of “free play” for all… I think you can see that in the ways that play is marketed and communicated in our society. You can see play in sports, board games, video games, and other entertainment and events that can be monetized.

Guilt, status, money, fear of failure, the inertia of tuning out with television or social media, societal and individual party pooper, and perceived lack of time stop us from enjoying our life through play.

It is clear that we don’t need more money or stuff to be happier or healthier humans at this point, we need more play. We don’t need to be any more productive, profitable, or optimized than we already are. On top of that, passive entertainment doesn’t work. TV, social, shopping, and eating don’t give us the benefits of true play. Social media isn’t actually social. Reality TV is actually real. Watching sports on TV doesn’t give you any of the same mental or physical benefits of actually playing a sport.

I worry that we either need to go all the way to some utopian existence where computers run everything and we humans get to play, OR we need to realize quickly that we have gone too far and we need to return to a more balanced pursuit of play. I believe that unplugging will be the only way for humanity to regain its sanity and happiness, through innate, true play.

How come you don’t play more? How do you spend your free time instead? Share your ideas in the comments.

Go Play!