Remaining young – It’s a child’s play…

So, a couple of months ago, when I started writing this, I had just returned from my COVID19-isolation of one week and one of my colleagues joked that if I had had to be isolation for more than said week, I would have started a blog or something. “Well…” I said. “I would definitely have made more content to my existing blog…”

He was all “What, do you already have a blog? Why?” I told him I like to write about all things Magic. He is in on the deal. At that point he hadn’t played for many years, but we share a liking for fantasy, role-playing games and so on. We had often talked about me bringing a couple of starter decks to the office, to sling some spells at each other after hours. Well, he started reading this thing, and said he liked it. Thanks! (He also started buying cards and playing online. There goes his savings, I guess. You’re welcome!)

A couple of hours after the big announcement, that I actually already had a blog, we were at a team meeting were my hobby and my blog came up. Another one of my colleagues was like “What! Do you have a blog about Magic? Is that still something anyone plays? – Are there tournaments?!” And I was like “Well… yes.”

And then something happened, that often happens when I tell people I still play Magic the Gathering, the second colleague joked a bit about it, almost embarrassed on my behalf, and when I implied that she should also start playing because it is great, she was almost defending herself saying that she really shouldn’t. You know; nervous laughter and the entire shebang.

Fine, it is of course not my decision, and it is probably not the most meaningful hobby for her, and that is neither the point of this post. (I should just add, that the aforementioned second colleague is a great person in all aspects I have encountered thus far, and I have a feeling that she probably has one or more interesting hobbies that I don’t know about – this is most certainly not about her doing anything wrong).

The point is that in my adult life – especially after kids have taken over my life – it has become clear to me exactly how important it is to play. Also as an adult – maybe even especially as an adult. Share some great moments in a relaxed setting with like-minded people and make sure the primary goal is to have a good time. Play. Do it. I am preaching to the choir here, I know, but as you probably have noticed by now, I wanted to stress a point. Here goes again: Play. Even though you may have kids, a mortgage, a demanding job and a fancy title: prioritize playing!

Not only is it important for your own well-being, my claim is that when you dedicate yourself to playing, you become more interesting, more energized, more allround great to be around. And you always have something to pull out of your hat, if you have been placed next to the driest of raisins at you cousin’s third wedding…

Playing is for kids

That is what most of us often hears. It is also why a lot of people frown when I mention I still play Magic. Often people are like “Oh, yeah, some nerds also played that in my preschool, but they stopped again…”

Actually, a week or so after the aforementioned day at the office, the first colleague and I had brought a couple of decks, and spend our lunch break slinging spells at each other. Then, a third colleague of mine almost tried to bully us. At least he was very vocal about the fact, that he thought it to be a very childish way of behaving.

For many, it almost seems as if playing as an adult is something you should hide – that it is childish in the worst sense of the word. It is something a lot of us are brought up with, I guess. But I am rather sure that a lot of us will not bring our own kids up with the belief that playing stops once you have to pay for your own food and do your own laundry.

I think something has changed in the last generation. Right, I know: A lot has changed, thank you. But in this specific respect, I think something rather fundamental has changed. Whether it is because the nerds has finally taken over and made more interesting board games than Monopoly or if it is because me and my generation (I am born in 1985) suffer from some kind of generational uprising, trying to be more cool and interesting than our parents, I don’t know.

You have probably heard the famous George Benard Shaw quote before, but I would like to just mention it here again:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

There is so much truth in this very short sentence! Playing is so much not only for kids. Kids play all the time, and it is basically how they learn and become human beings. But I would argue that to remain an interesting “young” person, you have to play something sometimes.

What is playing?

I don’t know. It is actually more difficult to pinpoint than one might think. And no, I am not going to write 9 pages on defining playing. Other more intelligent people have probably already done so somewhere.

There is just something about playing. And I don’t mean sports. Playing sports are great and you should also do that. Sports can do all sorts of wonders, but there is almost always a sense of competitiveness when you play sports. Sports are often very instrumental: you play them to become better, stronger, faster, fitter, whatever. You often play sports because you want to achieve a specific goal.

I know Magic is a competitive game too, and most of us want to win when we play. But often, when I play, I try to make sure to remember why I play – it is not to become better at English, to quash my opponents, to strengthen my strategic thinking or whatever other instrumental goal or achievement you can attach to a game of cardboard; it is simply to have fun, to challenge myself, and to let myself be both creative an inspired by the creativeness of others in a safe place.

That is, I’d say, basically the idea of playing.

In Denmark we have a professor in Play. I think she may be the only such professor in the world (don’t quote me on this). She says, that for play to remain play, there can be no other goals attached to it. Playing is the goal of playing. At the very point where you – let’s say – try to make children learn something specific through a specific game or play, it stops being play.

I think this is very interesting, because even though I believe my generation plays more than my parents’ generation I think there is also a kind of societal backlash against playing. This may sound a bit grotesque seeing as almost all learning and teaching these years are being put into some kind of playing or gamification. But if the aforementioned professor is to be believed (and I’d say she is, because she really knows what she is talking about), all that playing to learn is not really playing. It is learning.

My generation are the lucky ones. I grew up in what will probably be the all-time peak of mankind, the 1990’s – in the West’s intoxicated victory over the East, the world was easy. Today we have a military threat from Russia and an economic and intellectual threat from China. In the latter years everything has begun being measured on some kind of scale. And everything has to have an end goal – we have to strive to be better at something, in everything we do. So if playing is actually an activity with no specific end goal, it almost becomes a revolutionary act of self-sustaining in an increasingly complex and competitive world.

And to pull things back down to earth: if playing Magic should be playing, it is important that you don’t only focus on winning. Now, please don’t read this if you should never play to win – of course you should if that rocks your boat. It is okay and totally fine. What I am trying to say is that one should remember to sometimes play just for the heck of it. Assemble a deck that may not be the best one you could build, try a different color (green…) or a new brew (Kobolds). Be creative. Let yourself be inspired by what you see your peers are doing. Be a revolutionary.

It is important.

It prevents you getting old…

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