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Play and Making

The way we look at the world is colored by the things we’re interested in. To understand something new, or to develop a point of view on something, we call in experiences and preconceptions to guide us. We synthesize information from one context to inform another, and in doing so, bring seemingly disparate ideas together.

The experiences that I often find myself synthesizing are those of making and play. Both of these things have been deeply important to my work over the last decade as a game developer and designer, as well as a designer and maker of physical things.

Making is an activity of exploration. You work with the material, and speak through the material, in order to arrive at some ultimate creation that becomes. When I craft, or build a circuit board, the outcome of that activity is as much informed by the limitations of the physical world, and the materials that I’m working with, as it is my initial concept.

Play is unbounded exploration in many ways, too. Play is like game, but with mutable rules and boundaries. One does not, for instance, game house… you play house! The rules change on the fly, we make them up. We challenge assumptions of how one might go about doing the thing and, in that act, improvise. Play is also a critical evolutionary tool that can be observed not only in humans, but many other species of animals to learn to hunt, organize together, and overcome obstacles. Play is a significant part of the way we learn to interact with each other , understand the world around us, and reflect on ourselves.

Making to me, then, is an activity of play. Just like play it is exploring while challenging boundaries and being open to ever-changing rules; it is learning through action and doing; it is a critical and deeply natural form of human existence. And more than that, if making is play, then it is a way of Understanding.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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