controllerResearch is further growing that video gaming can improve cognitive function.

We’ve likely known this to some degree from games such as chess. I wonder, though, why must we separate video games so much from the tried and true board games? Computers nicely introduce real-time functioning to a game in a way that board games haven’t. Not that this makes them better or worse, but really it is only an added dimension.

The problem may stem from our erred focus. What if the principle mechanism at work here is Play?

Games, whether embedded in a medium of technology or not, are abstract playgrounds. They are worlds that function to enhance the mind state of play. They create a relatively safe area where reality is bounded by rules such that one can engage and learn of the self and environment in a joyful state of mind.

There is a seemingly persistent unspoken assumption that our minds work to store content, without the realization that process is every bit as changeable. It may even be just as or more important than content.

Our brains are not just data storage systems where one learned “thing” is separate from all other learned “things.” We are much more than that. Our brains and minds are every bit as alive as everything else. Our thoughts, our emotions, our memories are living growing entities that interact. When we learn something, our capacity to process information changes in many realms beyond just the subject of our learning. Even the distinction between data and process may be an artificial one, created by our own erroneous presumptions.

In high school, when I became active in gymnastics (whew – that was a long time ago), I noticed my grades improved. Though I thought time spent in practice would take away from study and hence worsen my grades, it had the opposite effect. Through the playful state of practice, my efficiency in learning and working with homework and studies improved. It actually took me less time to do work, and I did it better than before.

Play is a practice. When a person plays regularly, like a daily exercise, a playful capacity to learn and interact with the world begins to imbue the day.

What is Play?

  • Play is a meditative state of mind
  • Play is an interaction between self and environment with a feeling of lowered risk
  • Play is a process of learning
  • Play is creativity
  • Play is a state of wonder
  • Play is both relaxed and focused
  • Play is a toddler stacking blocks
  • Play is an athlete approaching and in the “zone”

Play does not need to be in a video game. It can be found in something as simple as pen and paper. Giving oneself the permission to have even a few daily moments of creativity, of joy, and of looking at the world with wonder can have an amazing effect through one’s life. But, oddly enough, especially in the world of the adult, play is a deliberate practice.