Having fun yet?

Viv spotted this New Scientist article: The paradox of fun. It’s a review of Ian Bogost’s new book, Play Anything. Its subtitle conveys something of its depth: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. Bogost argues that we’ve come to think of fun as enjoyment without effort, leading us down a series of unhelpful paths, where we’re trying to achieve results without any effort.

Bogost invites us to celebrate strip malls, household chores and ready meals. Finding fun in these things involves work, he says – but it’s work in the same way that carpentry or exercise is.

Along the way, he picks a fight with Mary Poppins, arguing that “that renowned philosopher of fun” had it all wrong. A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but as a maxim for dealing with the drudgery of everyday life her song was a sham. It is a mistake to dress things up as something they are not.

One definition of work is “the expenditure of energy against resistance”. And perhaps play is a way to describe a way of doing so that is satisfying.

If I think about the weight training I do, the satisfaction comes less from setting personal bests, and more from discovering the subtleties of attention and posture that allow the lift to feel clean and effective, rather than pained and strained. It nearly always takes a set or two to find that zone. I’m just lifting weights, on the face of it a boring and possibly vain enterprise. But I find the play, the fun in it. Not fun as in goofy or the spoonful of sugar.

Yoga fans sometimes talk about “effortless effort”, pointing to the same territory.

And this guides my practice as a facilitator. I’m constantly noticing and ruminating about how participants are engaging and how I’m engaging with them. And searching for the subtle tweaks that might improve things. Sometimes the work is invisible, as it’s a conscious choice not to interfere, where I’m expending energy on impulse control. And sometimes it leads me to intervene to change things.

Essentially, I’m in a state of play with the group all the time: arguably for me this is the process, rather than the formal activity, the overt process (e.g. open space, world cafe whatever) that I am running. I am often happy to change the overt process so that we’re not following a ritual in a trance, but are actually alive to the moment.

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