PLAY & DISTRACTION
“To make a man happy is to distract him from the sight of his miseries.” – Blaise Pascal
The will to have fun is inexorably linked to human nature. Every period and nation is characterized by its games, its celebrations, its music or its dance. Synonymous with pleasure, relaxation and sharing, play as an activity is ephemeral, has no apparent utility and follows voluntarily agreed-upon rules.
The nature of leisure activities and the places where they are practiced have evolved over the centuries. The hedonistic dogma emanating from the Enlightment, the decline of religions in Western societies, and, more recently, changes in the division of labour, have ushered in a “civilization of leisure,” giving rise to a new social order.
Today, leisure is a bona fide industry attuned to our every desire, and we are more than ever confronted with a barrage of ways for occupying our free time: game rooms, shows, theme parks, video games (which have surpassed cinema and music as the most lucrative form of entertainment), sports, mega exhibitions, television, the Internet...
The success of multiplayer games, accessible at all times through our smartphones, redefines the spatial, temporal and social boundaries of play and transforms our phones into miniature mobile casinos. This extends to shopping, which nowadays is considered something one does to relax, and even to dating, which has its own fun apps.
Meanwhile, various sectors, such as medicine, education and business, are increasingly incorporating “playful” approaches into their more traditional models for interacting with, and developing the faculties of logic, memory and concentration of, their employees, users or clienteles.
This all points to an emerging trend known as the “gamification” or “leisurization”of society, a an accelerating whirlwind of fun in which effort is shunned. This can only influence our development as individuals and the quality of our relationships.
Having fun is a legitimate human need. But when do activities that foster genuine empowerment or reflection become exercises in alienation and regression instead? Have we developed a “love [for our] servitude,” as Aldous Huxley surmised in Brave New World, allowing ourselves to be controlled, without coercion, by rules defined by others, and turning our backs on anything that requires patience and maturation?
Does this perpetual quest for escape solely denounce a growing frustration with reality or is it redefining our very nature? Have we become the Homo ludens referred to by historian and author Johan Huizinga, for whom the mechanism of play is consubstantial with culture?
Emeline Rosendo | Frédéric Loury