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Deep Play and the Liberal Arts Education

tomahawk's picture

On Friday, I had a doctor’s appointment. Before seeing my doctor, a nurse asked me to take off my shoes so that she could weigh me. This made me very nervous. Still, I took off my shoes and got onto the scale. When she read aloud the amount I weighed, I was not surprised, but I was terrified. I had lost ten pounds since I came to Bryn Mawr. Walking back from the doctor’s appointment, I thought a great deal about the weight loss. It was not a good sign. To be very clear, I do not have any sort of eating disorder. I have lost weight because I get very absorbed in any and all activities I partake in. If I am reading, writing, watching TV, knitting etc. I will often forget to go to lunch, drink some water, sleep, or even go to the bathroom. In the past, friends and family have been able to break me out of the trances I get into while I’m working. But, at Bryn Mawr, I have to be much more independent. I realized, while walking back, that I needed to take better care of myself.

I chose to use this example because it highlights the subjectivity of deep play. Before exploring this subjectivity, I should define both play and deep. Play is any activity that a person chooses to take part in which has some element of risk. It involves both free will and danger. Deep is a consequence of play; it is a sense of greater understanding or a revelation that arises from the concentration a person puts into play. Deep play encompasses all of the elements of these definitions; it is any activity characterized by free will, danger, concentration, and greater understanding and/or revelation. 

Deep play is extremely subjective because different people will consider different activities deep play. People will choose to participate in various activities, they will find different activities dangerous, and they will have different revelations or no revelations at all. For example, I considered stepping onto the scale dangerous because I was already worried about having unhealthy eating habits. However, another person may have found stepping onto a scale completely harmless. Moreover, my weight loss led me to realize that I need to rethink my habits. In contrast, a contestant on Extreme Weight Loss would probably celebrate losing ten pounds.

Applying deep play to writing is tricky because it is so subjective. Not all people feel as if writing these essays is an exercise of their free will, not all people consider writing dangerous, and not all people attain any greater understanding or revelation while they are writing. Although the subjectivity of deep play seems to problematize its relationship with writing, the subjectivity actually makes it much easier to incorporate deep play into writing. If the only thing that separates me from experiencing deep play in my writing is the way I view writing, then half of what I need to do is adjust my perspective. Instead of looking at writing as something imposed upon me, I need to remind myself that I am taking this ESEM and writing these essays because I value my education. Moreover, I need to view each of these essays as a risk-taking endeavor. Sure, I may be glad in the future that my username is not my real name so that future employers cannot link me to the writing risks I have taken. Yet, if I do not view my own writing as a place to experiment, then I will not develop as a writer. Although this does not guarantee that I will have revelations or walk away from an essay feeling the same clarity that I did when I was walking away from the doctor’s appointment, viewing my papers differently and writing them with new intentions (eg. the intention to experiment) will make it far more likely that I will experience deep play while writing.

Instead of considering my own writing (because I have already talked with Anne about how my “Penis Headband” essay changed the way I viewed my writing for this ESEM), I think it is important to go back to the element of free will in deep play and in writing papers. Although we are often given formats or topics for our paper writing, it would be incorrect to assume that we do not have any control over the content we write about. For example, I could have described any number of experiences I had with deep play. Yet, I found the one involving my recent weight loss the most interesting out of all of them. I do not believe that I need to force myself to be interested in topics that I am not interested in. However, there are many ways for me and for all of the students in our ESEM to explore our own interests while discussing the new concepts that we are presented with (like deep play). This will not only make the writing process more enjoyable, it will open all of us up to new perspectives and ideas. And, so far, that seems to me to be a goal of a liberal arts education. We are supposed to be critical, but also open and willing to explore a gamut of interests. Therefore, deep play is not just a subjective hard-to-grasp concept. It is a way for us, as students, to view our education so that we may better immerse ourselves in the liberal arts.