Adult Play

And just let me say “you’re welcome” for this: sparing you the job of googling “adult play.” I did it, and I was prepared for the worst: an endless list of porn sites and “dating” services. But no! Actually, the entire first page of results was all about actual adult play, as in, you know, play for grown-ups.

First, we need to define “play.” What is it if it’s not running around and giggling a lot? The google response for the noun is: “activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, esp. by children.” That could cover almost anything that we like to do that isn’t required of us, from watching tv (enjoyment) to jogging (recreation), so let’s look at how Dr. Brown’s National Institute for Play (NIFP)  breaks down various kinds of play. They list 7 types; others list different numbers, different descriptions, different specific definitions. I’m beginning to see why Dr. Brown’s stated reason for creating the NIFP makes sense: to coordinate and combine the research and work being done about play all in one place.

The 7 kinds of play he lists:

1. Attunement play—the earliest way a parent and infant tune in to each other by smiling and responding to each other’s smiles

2. Body play and movement—running, leaping, dancing, twirling

3. Object play—playing with something, from an empty box to a bunch of rocks

4. Social play—think litter of puppies, kids at recess, games at office parties

5. Imaginative and pretend play—make believe, what if

6. Story-telling and narrative play—exactly what it sounds like

7. Transformative-Integrative and creative play—think brain-storming, think Google, Pixar, and IDEO

In a 2012 blog post at, titled “In Defense of Play,” Zahra Ebrahim and Mary Tangelder list 10 things about play, a list compiled from their own experience (anecdotal) and current research (empirical):

  1. Play is work.
  2. Play is not new.
  3. Play is necessary.
  4. Play is not an icebreaker, workshop, a networking event, or “cross-disciplinary”.
  5. Play isn’t easy. Rather, it challenges us to focus, expand thinking, stretch ideas, problem-solve, and try on new roles.
  6. Play allows for physical movement, self-expression and has improvisational potential.
  7. Play starts with an invitation and is by necessity, voluntary.
  8. Play liberates us from sense of time (“I lost track of time!”) and evokes a desire to continue.
  9. Play involves decision-making about rules and guidelines for play.
  10. Play involves exploration of a concept, a thing, or the environment.

Something I’d thought of as simple—play—is looking more and more complex.

I posed the question on Facebook, of course. I asked how people played. Not in the studio, not related to work, but how they, as adults, played. I was beginning to realize that although I think I’m playful, I couldn’t put my finger on much specific play behavior that doesn’t involve my cats, with whom I play every day. But do I play by myself? If so, how? As I suspected, I’m not alone. Jean asked, “Play? What is this play of which you speak?” and Judy said, “Sadly I think I need a lesson on how to play any more …. Please let me not be the only one who has forgotten!” Almost everyone else had stories about how they play, and some made me really happy, like Carmelita, who explained, “For me on a good Winter raining day, I put on my wellies and I puddle jump…I don’t care what my neighbors think…I spin and dance and jump in the rain puddles!” What became obvious as the day went along, though, is that most of us as adults play mostly in one of three ways: either we count play as the organized games we play (increasingly online) either alone or with others, or we play pretty much only with children—our kids, our grandkids, borrowed kids, or we count our outdoor activities like hiking and biking as play. All of these do count as play, and any play is good, but what about the other kinds of play? Imaginative play? Physical play? Object play? Story-telling play? And what about creative play, the play that leads us to new ideas and projects and whole series of work?


Truly, we’re just getting started. Join us on Friday—



Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

U2865 MixedMediaArt_cover.inddFor some creative play try Mixed Media Techniques for Art Journaling.







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