Why do little children play even when they are sick? How come grownups hardly ever play? Playing is no laughing matter; it is the single most important tool in our development and growth. Lion cubs play hunting games. Fawns hop, run, and chase each other in what looks like their version of “tag.” Each species plays the games that develop its survival skills. It may seem like carefree fun to us, but playing is essential for the survival of the young, and the survival of their species.
Children, too, play, and for the exact same reason. For children, learning survival skills means imitating the grownups around them. This is why children play at being parents, doctors and patients, and other meaningful persons in their lives. By mimicking their behavior, they learn the skills they will need later in life.
Today, the meaningful persons in our lives are very different from the ones that children knew before the advent of the internet. Today, those meaningful others can be, and most often are, people we do not know, who live very far away, and whom we will never meet. But because these people have made a name for themselves and became media idols, children imitate them the way they would previously imitate the most influential figures in their lives.
On the one hand, this openness to the world exposes children to values and ideas they would never have encountered otherwise. On the other hand, it makes them susceptible to negative influences that parents cannot monitor because social media enables anyone to consume any content, and parents cannot control what their children see on their mobile phones.
As it is with children, so it is with grownups. Grownups’ games, even if seemingly harmless, such as computer sports games, do not develop them. They serve a different purpose: to pass the time and numb the mind. It is the opposite of development.
To ensure the proper development of children, and the continuous development of teenagers and adults, we should mind the games we play. As children, we need to learn more technical games in order to hone technical skills. For adolescents and grownups, the games should revolve around human communication, in order to polish our communication skills.
Only when we learn to communicate and collaborate with different mindsets and different viewpoints can we thrive in a diverse society such as the human society. A society where people do not play is a stagnant society and its days are numbered. A vital society is one where people change and develop, and this can happen only if they play games that challenge them to develop and grow.
Challenging ourselves to connect with people from other cultures and perspectives, and bonding with them above the differences enriches us and enriches our partners in the game. If we want to develop in life, learn, grow, yet stay as vital and as vibrant as children our entire lives, we must never stop playing.