What I’ve learned from working in a Game Design Agency.

In the last 2 years, I was surrounded by games, play dates and a wish to create impact through games*. The importance of play, the magic circle and trustful relationships are 3 of the concepts I dearly take with me.

Playfulness may be the most underrated skill in our adulthood. Somehow, there’s still an overall story going on that working must be serious, and that seriousness can’t be playful.

One of the most surprising realisations for me was the fact that playfulness needs structure. That having a clear frame allows us to be creative, explorative, curious and… (of course!) playful within it.

The idea that “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” (B. Suits, in The Grasshoper”) highly relates to the idea of intrinsic motivation that we so often aim at.

And even if I can see all those benefits, I still believe that there’s no playfulness on demand. Saying “Now, be playful!” to myself or others doesn’t have the desired impact. There are qualities of the space and relations that allow for this element to arise.

Next time that you feel playful, try paying attention to it:

  • what qualities make it feel playful?
  • how does your body feel?
  • which emotions arise?
  • are there thoughts, memories or images popping up?

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.”

Carl Gustav Jung

If you ever played any game, you have experienced the concept of magic circle, even if you didn’t label it. This is the space where the game happens, with its specific meaning, rules, context…

One of the great advantages of entering this magic space is that our concepts and beliefs are challenged or get new meanings, at least for the duration of the game.

Like entering a parallel universe where our known rules don’t apply, and there’s space for the not knowing, or for new meanings.

What if words have no meaning anymore? What if meaningless gestures, like touching someone’s hand, receive a full new meaning?

That’s also what improvisation dancers use when they improvise using scores. These scores are inspirations, frameworks or structures that define the boundaries of the magic circle. They are the game rules for the improvisation dance. And this is what I also use in my work with groups.

We often gain insights or inspirations that go beyond the duration of the game!

Let’s play a game?

Imagine that your left arm, or another part of your body, just gained new superpowers.

  • How would you know that this happened?
  • What is your new superpower?
  • How can you use it?

Take a few minutes to explore!

Now ask yourself:

  • how did you start that exploration?
  • did you use your knowledge about superheroes to find out if this was it?
  • did you find something new about your body part, or moved it in ways that you usually don’t?
  • did you have a hidden desire for a specific superpower?

Did you try the game? This is when a new set of questions appear!

  • What made you decide to step into this magic circle or decide not to?
  • Was there a difference between being in the game, and the sensation of having it come to an end?

The impulse to join a game or not, or to be playful or not, needs a setting where we feel safe and comfortable, but also where we feel curious to explore. Taking a look into the inner motivations can give us some insights about how we react in new settings.

Overall, I would describe this as a need for trust. On one hand, a trust in the setting itself. It may just be trust that it will be “time well spent”!

Would your decision to join be different if you had a different level of trust with the person suggesting the game?

On another hand, when we are in a group setting, this trust is even more complex. Relationships play a role and define our starting point. Playfulness often creates a sense of trust in between people, but it also needs trust to show up in the first place.

Esther Perel, relationship Therapist, puts it into simple words:

The more we trust, the farther we are able to venture.

What ignites enough trust in you to be playful?

Playing as adults is about pleasure, connection, creativity, fantasy—all the juicy parts of life we savour. Play is the pleasure of being inventive, mischievous, imaginative, and trying something new. Why do we play? Because it helps us grow—and because it’s fun. 

ESTHER PEREL

How does it influence my work?

I gained a deep respect for these 3 concepts, and I try to apply them in everything I do:

PLAY as the starting point

Playfulness allows people to be more relaxed, let go of expectations, and show up with a softer side of themselves. I show up with my own playfulness, as much as possible to set the tone. Even serious inner work can take playfulness!

The MAGIC CIRCLE of movement and connection

Stepping into a space where we can let go of our regular patterns of behaviour, we can experience and experiment different outcomes. When we are able to go beyond our pre-concepts, and pre-judgements, there’s space to be amused and surprised.

As an example, I like to use little rituals to start and end my sessions that make it clear when it starts and when it ends.

TRUSTING relationships

When we work with the body and with movement, we connect in a level that talks beyond words. Being in touch with ourselves in that way, we interact from a place of both strength and vulnerability, and we need to make sure that we take ourselves and others into consideration.

As this is often a way of showing ourselves beyond masks and armours, when I plan my sessions, and when I host them, I have an extra attention to the group and to each individual, in order to respect their needs as much as possible. Creating a safe space where people can also set their own boundaries is one of my priorities.

* Thank you to my colleagues in Playful Solutions, especially Konstantin Mitgutsch, for all the discussions and learnings around these topics!