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Playing for Power

mmanzone's picture

In my previous paper I discussed my adventures in Philadelphia (walking around Logan circle and wandering into the Academy of Natural Sciences) and how I acted in a way that exhibited “critical play” according to Mary Flanagan.  Through reflection I eventually realized that what I was actually doing was part of Brian Sutton Smith’s concept of the four different types of play: play as learning, play as power, play as fantasy, and play as self (Flanagan 4).  This past week I realized that, in many ways, teaching is a form of play as power.

For my venture into the city this past weekend I knew I wanted to go to Elfreth’s Alley, because I recognized the name from one of my classes and thought it would be fun to see the oldest continually inhabited street in America, and the Historic District of the city.  I went with Kate and we spent awhile walking around the alley, deciding which houses we would live in if we could and embracing the historical feel of the alley.  Despite how beautiful the walk in the alley was, we quickly found ourselves wanting to find something else to do.  I remembered Kate expressing interest in the Constitution Center and I always find history interesting, so we made our way over to the main part of Old City.  

When we finally got to Old City many of the sights that I remember from all my school trips to the area were missing because of the government shutdown.  There were fences blocking off certain areas and a large line outside the window showing the Liberty Bell.  Despite the shutdown, the Constitution Center was open and we made our way inside to buy our tickets.  I began to feel empowered as soon as I realized that, despite the shutdown, there were things to do in Old City that would allow Kate and me to learn about America’s history. 

Once inside the Constitution Center we watched a performance all about the power of “We the People,” ironically because our power with the government is at a low at the moment.  This is when I realized that when we teach someone something, we exercise play as power.  Whoever is teaching gets to determine what is taught and the way it is taught, thus influencing the opinion of whoever is being taught.  The person doing the teaching has the power over the person being taught because they can handpick topics to explain.  The reverse, however, is also somewhat true.  When going through the exhibit portion of the Constitution Center, Kate and I had the power to decide what panels to read or activity to participate in and we would only look at those sections that were interesting to both of us.  Though in an academic setting the teacher has the ability to play with power over what he or she teaches his or her students, in a museum, visitors have power over what they learn.

One of the interactive aspects inside the Constitution Center allowed us to voice our opinions in polls that were than projected on to the wall.  This process, simulating actual voting booths, provided us with the opportunity to “practice real-life functions” in a fun and playful way (Flanagan 4).  We got to vote in make believe elections, pitting a Republican and a Democrat from different elections against each other to see how presidential elections would have ended if they candidates were different.

Though this adventure was also at a museum, and I did not have the opportunity to “play as power” it proved to me that teaching and learning are both examples of this.

Works Cited:

Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. Print.


tflurry's picture

Thinking Questions

In the first paragraph, MManzone recaps her previous essay, and how with further reflection her opinion of her previous and recent actions changed: specifically, she realizes that she was following Sutton's division of play into four types, and that teaching is play as power. As I read, I found myself considering what being said; do I agree, why or why not, and taking in some general observations about how she wrote. MManzone made a point to connect Flannagan and her last essay to her newest adventure in the city, and took care to also draw in references from her previous experiences in the city; in return, I did my best to imagine the adventure as she saw it, and to consider my own reactions to it. She played with her references to Flannigan and previous experiences, and toyed with some philisophical concepts as well, such as the power of play in teaching. I had similar fun bouncing the ideas around; while I don't think they all apply all the time, they make sense, and are fun to consider.