Play Life

I picked my children up early from school today, as a winter storm heads our way. Early dismissal. No school tommorrow. Children everywhere celebrate a snowday in advance. I cherish driving my children to school every day, and I cherish picking them up. It never feels like a chore, as I know this time will soon pass and the car will often just be me and songs on shuffle.

As the threat of snow moved in, earlier in the day my children prepared for a different danger: another active shooter drill. I listened to them talk about barricaded doors and avoiding windows, but was surprised as their talk of the drill transitioned into a form of play. I learned which kids misbehaved: the boy who said “ah, forget it” and ran back and forth in front of the windows waving his arms; the group that walked over to the woodshop and hung out for a while; the girls that played on the barricade. They were laughing about these things, as kids do, and I suddenly remembered myself at age 7 or 8, heading to the designated fallout shelter deep in the piped bowels of my neighborhood school. History has shown us that deadlier attacks would occur in these places, just with smaller bombs of a sort.

While listening to them, I began to admire the way they talked; it was a form of protest, as play often is. If you want to know more specifically what I mean, I suggest this book:

Embedded in their stories and laughter was defiance emerging in the form of play. Whatever the form, we need more of this. I’ve long understood that there are no laws, only lawmakers. This reality can be both inspiring and terrifying, often simultaneously. When it comes to what my children were preparing for today, only terrifying applies, as our ability to imagine a better, different world has, frankly, failed in this particular arena.

If not lawmakers, then maybe play, games, and game players can imagine that world (as worldbuilding is what they do), or deeply affect it with play as protest. Yes, I know that gaming has its own difficult history, with the phrase “gamergate” having achieved significant reach in our society. Maybe this is another post that should be titled, “Nothing to Say,” but I’m trying to imagine the “good guy with a game” someday being more important than the “good guy with a gun.” (Please read “guy” as “person,” as words are their own game, containers that are infinitely larger on the inside than they are on the outside.)

In the spirit of recent posts, I turned to our buzzing hive of an AI world. I used “children practicing active shooter drill” as a prompt for Midjourney. The results were–and I don’t have the right word for this–much more “literal” and less aesthetic than Midjourney’s normal renderings.

Midjourney rendering of “children practicing active shooter drill”

I’ve used Midjourney quite a bit, so I decided to “play” a bit and used the same prompt with Dall-E but added the word “impressionist” at the end.

Dall-E version

Maybe these images are games, or the beginnings of games and play as an engine for change and protest, which is easy to say as I sit here typing. But, when the concern is drugs in school, the response is a police action, dogs sniffing rows of lockers. When the concern is the unthinkable I have been describing thus far, the response is a game, a rehearsal, with roles and blocking.

But as games, by the day, become an increasingly massive presence in our world, often in incredibly positive and profound ways, maybe there is a link to be made between the nonviolent forms of play described in Blueprint for Revolution and these games that occupy so many players and hours. (If there is a game out there that gestures towards this, don’t hesitate to comment below.) Whatever that game is, I imagine it is cooperative, brings people together, with its goal lying both inside and outside the game’s parameters, a living play that replaces the playacting of active-shooter drills on a normal Tuesday with a normal storm moving in overhead.

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