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Critical Play is Not Play

playcity23's picture

All this talk of critical play and plain play reminds me of Anne of Green Gables. I remember reading the book by L.M Montgomery at nine years old and marveling at how Anne was so comfortable with making mistakes and her guardian, Marilla. More importantly, she felt her life had meaning because of her active imagination. I remember she said that “Don’t you ever imagine things differently than what they are? Oh, Marilla, how much you miss.” Anne used her imagination to play in the purest sense of the world: She fashioned all these different lives with her fellow kindred spirit, Diana. She did it for no particular reason other than to keep her wonder for this world alive. She did not play critically, because I think she would’ve said the fun would’ve seeped right out of it. When Flanagan defines critical play as the creation of “play environments and activities that represents one or more questions about aspects of human life,” I strongly believe that critical play is not play at all. I also strongly believe that when you try to inject philosophical questions into your play, it starts to look an awful lot like schoolwork. 

A fantastic example to support my claim arose on Friday, with our R-100 Esem trip this past weekend. We went on the ghost tour of Philly with a tour guide who posesses a booming voice you hear only on the radio. Dressed in a long velvet cloak, he guided us around the old city, stopping at each of the notable sites to tell us a ghost story about it. My favorite one is about Old City Tavern. According to local legends, extensive research, and several interviews, a bride and her bridesmaids haunt the second floor of the tavern because they died tragically in a fire there in the 1800s. If you happen to hear lots of commotion and the furniture being moved around, you’re supposed to toast the ladies and let them do their thing. Apparently they move the furniture back when they’re done. 

Whilst on the tour, I had a splendid time imagining spirits floating and murmuring contentedly  around Old City Tavern while we listened to their life (and death) stories. It made the whole experience so much complete and soul-fulfilling. I imagined my much-missed grandparents not as ashes, but them as spirits enjoying me love Bryn Mawr and my new life in Pennsylvania. However, if I had tried to contemplate bigger voids in society while imagining the spirits, the spirits would’ve faded out of my mind’s eye in favor of the sombre abstract. Said sombre abstract questions occupy my mind during the times I am doing schoolwork or am in class. That’s what knowledge absorption is about: asking big questions and trying to answer them. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy doing this, but for the sake of balance, I prefer to reserve a couple hours a day to play and be merry. 

Ahh. I have just discovered a loophole in my argument. Where do the original thoughts about the voids sombre abstracts come from? Play at its finest. This complicates things. I did much thinking about this loophole in the gym today and came up with the concept of timing. When we play, we archive the stories and ideas for later use. When it comes time to address the voids, we open up our archives and take the raw materials and fashion a piece for the world to critique.  Timing is key. I strongly assert that the ideas you come up with whilst playing are of higher quality than when you are trying to force them. 

During my last trip to the mountains in my homeland, my friend and I found a majestic spot that overlooked my city and its plains. I swelled my chest and imagined myself as the queen of this domain looking down at her people. Looking back on it, it was a sort of farewell to the old life. I did the same when I got on the plane to Philadelphia. I imagined my subjects mournfully lined up on the edges of the tarmac, saying their goodbyes to an era. It was imagination at its purest; awkwardness and unnecessary guilt for thinking that I am worthy to rule this land would’ve tainted my goodbyes. I would hate to have my memories of the last days ruined like that. 

I used Mary Flanagan's arguments in Critical Play (Boston, the MIT Press: 2013) and Lucy Maud Montegomery's Anne of Green Gables (Sterling Classics: 2004).


lksmith's picture

In the opening paragraph of

In the opening paragraph of her essay Tessa uses an example of play from Anne of Green Gables to introduce her main point and make the reader interested in the essay. The use of this example sets the stage for the rest of the essay. It shows a simple but very clear example of exactly what Tessa is trying to say throughout the entire essay. She is very direct in her writing, making sure that the reader does not miss anything while keeping the reader tied into the main point. Throughout the rest of the essay, Tessa clearly outlines other examples in which critical play is not really play at all. Her opinions are strong and well supported through her experiences and the works she referneces throughout the paper.

Grace Zhou's picture

clear and strong beginning

Tessa connects her thoughts and essay to Anne’s work at the beginning. She quotes the sentences from Anne’s work, which is a question. By using the quotation and Tessa’s own subjective experience, she shows her opinion very clearly and strongly. She categorizes the imagination in Anne’s work as a pure playing, which is not critical play defined in Flanagan’s work. So Tessa connects her own thoughts, Anne’s work and Flanagan’s work in this introduction. When I read her work, I was easily being attracted to the Green Gables. Tessa gives this book’s name at the very beginning, so I started to think and curious about this book. I am curious about the reason she connects her opinions with this book. Also, when she gives that question, I began to question myself whether I have imagined things differently before and what is that. So I think this question connects the reader (me) to her essay. At last, I was a little amazed by the strong opinion Tessa has. By using the word such as “strongly believe”, “awful”, it attracts my attention and makes me want to read the next paragraphs to find the illustration of her idea.