Deep Play

I’ve been thinking more about my “work/play” idea. I think it actually runs into the concept of “deep play,” which I ran into recently in an article in The Guardian titled The meaning of life in a world without work.

Deep play is an old concept, denoting a game with stakes so high a rational person wouldn’t play it. It was coined by Clifford Geertz in an essay reflecting on Balinese cock-fights. I’m probably not using it with as deep or as dire of a meaning, but I think it’s still relevant to what I’ve been thinking about.

They say everyone needs a hobby. Everyone needs something to occupy their minds beyond the tedium of the day to day. In fact, it’s often that thing that gets you through the tedium. I wrote a lot of my novel while I was stocking dairy cases in the grocery store. I needed something to keep my mind occupied.

It’s something that interests you, but it goes deeper. It’s something fun that you that you treat like work. That sounds bad, because of the negative connotation of “work,” but what I’m thinking is that you use the skills that you use on something that you work on with something that you enjoy. You think about it when you’re not actively doing it. You plan it, you research it.

A lot of times, you’ll find a community of people who are into the same thing as you are. People who share common goals, and common interests, because of this deep play thing that you all are worked up about. Deep play can actually create and bind communities together.

Maybe it’s that we all dream of doing something more, something that fulfills that empty space that tugs at our hearts. Our needs are met, now what can I direct my time and attention towards. There has to be something more, right?

I’ve spent the past year and a half spending a lot of time playing Destiny. It’s given me a lot to do, and a lot to think about. While I think it’s really neat that I was able to complete the Age of Triumph, or finally complete the King’s Fall raid after so many attempts, something I’m really proud of is that I was able to build a set of Tier 12 armor for my main character. This is an arcane, subtle thing, and I found a lot of research on the net for how to do it.

But Destiny also gave me a group. Starting two winters ago, I started routinely playing with a group of people online. I learned a lot from them, and have spent a lot of time with them. Recently, one of our group was having some personal trouble, and he reached out to us for support. I don’t have a lot of community, but my Destiny group is a place where I belong.

Another example would be the community theatre scene that I witnessed in Iowa City. I watched people spending a lot of time and energy putting on productions. They weren’t doing it to advance their careers, or even because they consistently put on amazing productions. They did it because they love doing it, because they love theatre, because theater engages them. Again, a community forms around the activity, that maybe the “community” in “community theater” refers not to the town or city that the theater is serving, but the community of actors and producers who create the productions.

When you’re engaged in deep play, you feel like you’re succeeding at something essential, something vital. But it’s only vital because you make it so, and maybe that makes it more essential, more important. It allows you to feel like you’re working towards something, a goal that needs to be met.