Who “Owns” Play?

“Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?"

Donald Sterling – Banned for Life owner of the Los Angeles Clippers

There is little that I can add to the conversation about Donald Sterling’s racism.  He is so repugnant that he has become radioactive.  What I do have an opinion on, however, is Donald Sterling’s statement “Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?"

When I speak to play industry audiences, I like to remind everyone, including myself, that if toys or video games or even apps for that matter, did not exist, people would still play.  Toys are tools of play and the companies that provide them make up a play economy.  If the play economy did not exist, however, people would still find ways to play, just as their ancestors did.

It is easy to confuse the economy of play with play itself so it was with that in mind that I want to address the hubris that saturates Mr. Sterling’s quote.  Donald Sterling does not "make" the game.  Even the great Michael Jordan does not "make" the game.  No one and everyone “makes” the game.

If the NBA ceased to exist tomorrow and the quasi professional NCAA too, people would still play basketball.  If Nike stopped making shoes and Spalding stopped making balls, there would still be barefoot kids shooting ball into a wire ring.

Maybe it would be healthy for all of us, every once in a while, to get some friends together, roll up a pair of socks and have some fun shooting them into a trashcan.  It would remind us the simplicity of play and the joy of "making" it yourself.

Most importantly, even though we don't "own" play, let's all keep in mind that we are the temporary stewards of play and with that goes a responsibility to do best by it.

One thought

  1. There is nothing more depressing than kids who whine ” there’s nothing to do, surrounded by mountains of ” stuff”. Have we stolen the imagination of a generation of over programmed little robots.
    I had an idyllic childhood of roaming 40 acres of bush, damming creeks, tying logs together into rafts to pole down a river, building forts of branches, earth, logs and pine needles, and sleeping overnight in the woods . Skinny dipping in the river, making campfires and cooking supper. Digging out clay and fashioning pottery. Making tree forts and spending the night in them.Throwing a rope halter on a horse and riding for miles over moonlit fields after sneaking out of the house at midnightObviously the product of criminally negligent parents.
    And I was never bored and needed no expensive toys, gadgets or lessons.
    Who owns play? Have we stolen it for profit? Are the boogy men and predators who are suspected around every corner the tools for enforcing a culture of over supervised indoor play..?

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