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dive deep into play

Muni's picture

The top of the mountain is shrouded in fog, and I am all alone. My legs ache from the steep hike up, but pride swells in my chest. I’ve hiked 4.5 miles and gone up about 360 meters, mostly for the view, but despite my misty grey surroundings, I’m smiling ear to ear. The experience of walking all alone has given me the chance to really push my own boundaries, both physically and mentally. I set a challenging pace for myself, and spent the duration of the hike alone with my thoughts and the trees that surrounded me. 

Moments like at the top of that hill occur in a separate world, in a sense. A world that is connected physically to some concrete landmark, but otherwise made up of thoughts and imaginings. To me, this is the world of deep play. Deep play occurs in moments that are fully “in the now,” taking place in a way that time in the past-present-future mindset doesn’t really have any relevance. Moments of deep play are also filled with emotional intensity, usually ecstasy as pointed out by Ackerman her book, Deep Play. Deep play is always connected to some physical landmark, be it the earth under feet, wind rushing through hair, or a paintbrush in hand. These solid connections keep the player grounded, allowing her to set her mind free. In this freedom, the player can take risks and immerse herself fully in what ever activity is being played through. And the activity can really vary: “...deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens” (Ackerman).  

In fact, deep play can occur as writing. Writing can be playful, using structure and words to toy with an opinion. Critical writing as deep play also involves taking risks, with either writing style, bold words, or an analysis that’s a little bit “out there.” In its risk taking, deep play writing differs from other writing. Writing that is deeply playful, though, must also have come from an authentic place in its author. It is necessary for the writer to have written the piece from a perspective that they allow to take control of them, adding the emotional intensity required for deep play. Zadie Smith’s essay, “Man versus Corpse,” was deeply playful in this way. Smith had invested herself in her writing, which allowed her audience to engage with her through it. By opening her thoughts to her audience, we, too were pulled into the deep play, and were prompted to think about the questions and statements she posed. If all writing in a classroom was deeply playful, students would not only learn material and writing techniques, but also how to see from the lens the writer looks through. Education would include learning what it’s like to be another person, from another place, or with a completely opposite point of view. Students would learn how to take intellectual risks, which would probably result in a lot of revolutionary thinking. And by investing themselves fully in their writing, students would be able to learn not only from others, but also from and about themselves.

In this class, my writing has certainly become more playful through structure. Since the beginning, we threw the classic high school 5 paragraph essay out the window. We’ve also scooted away from the basic analysis of quotes also characteristic of those essays. I’ve begun to allow my original ideas to take more of a presence in my writing, and in turn in my analysis of whichever aspect of play or the city we’re discussing. 

In my essay, “Playground City,” which I wrote after the first trip into the city, my writing was playful in its discussion of serendipity, but it was not deeply playful. I didn’t take any risks with my points, or even with my structure. I only realized what I wanted to say once I got to the end of the paper, which prevented me from diving in headfirst and really gaining something from the experience of writing. There were moments in writing the paper when I was on the verge of deep play, but didn’t gain enough momentum to go as deeply into the words as is required. I did, however, reach the mindset of deep play as I finished the essay. I allowed the writing to be more personal and meaningful.

Ackerman, Diane. "Deep Play." Deep Play. N.p.: Random House, 1999. N. pag. New York Times. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <>.