Playing by the rules

Have you ever noticed how children make up their own rules? Living opposite a school playground, i can’t help but notice the noise on my occasional days off; it sounds complete and utter chaos! A brief look serves to confirm what my ears are telling me – kids milling around randomly, constantly in motion, with apparently absolutely no direction or purpose.

However, spend a few moments in careful observation and you realise that although the scene may be chaotic and crazy to the casual eye, what’s going on actually has and incredibly rich and complex structure to it.

You’ll suddenly see the impromptu football match, with oddly mismatched sides and a arbitrary ‘playing field’ that expands to fill whatever gap a player may find themselves occupying – an organised game where not only are the participants players but also form an equal component of a corporate referee that instinctively knows when a player is offside or a foul has been committed; somehow, it works. Then there are the ah-hoc games of skipping, tag, and ‘let’s see how hard we can push each other over’. Finally there’s the general milling around chasing each other, where there are no specific rules but somehow everyone seems to know how to play.

All of this was brought to mind watching a young lad on the train. His father, valiantly attempting to read the newspaper, whilst the boy amused himself by constantly prodding at who knows what, all over every page – stabbing delightedly at the paper with his finger and proclaiming loudly with each stab, “that one!”

“That one!… That one!… That one!” – and so it continued. Exactly ‘that one’ was, or why it was so important to point it out, nobody but that lad knew. Similarly, only he knew why it was so much fun to point it out – in this strange game only that boy knew the rules and, no matter how peculiar it may have appeared to the casual observer, it was a game that he was obviously thoroughly enjoying playing!

i wonder if we lose the capacity to play naturally as we grow up? Maybe that’s why our grown-up sports and pastimes need so many rules and regulations – as adults, we lose our ability to innately know what the ‘rules’ are, so we need to be organised, umpired and regulated, just so that we can have fun. We seem to lose the spontaneity of ‘disorganised’ sports and can be somewhat incapable of adapting our games to meet the circumstances that may be prevailing when we’d otherwise like to be playing. Neither are we adaptable – our games lack the fluidity of the children’s playground and the rules by which we play remain inviolate and unchangeable, with every game follows exactly the same format.

One of the big criticisms about sl is the way in which noobs are left to figure things out from the moment they set foot inworld. The plaintive cry of “I don’t know how to play this game”, echoes around the Welcome Areas and we, more seasoned residents, criticise and mutter about how sl should have more in the way of provision to assist those newly rezzed. Is it really sl that’s at fault though?

Here, in sl, we have the grown-up version of the school playground – it’s a freeform, free-thinking environment; one with few constraints and which is infinitely malleable and fluid – in some ways it has a quantum physics feel about it: our very presence inworld changes the environment and the mere act of observation can alter behaviour. In such a place there can only be very broad, and somewhat indefinable rules. It’s very much a case of making things up as we go along, of adapting to situations and of exploring the possibilities, rather than being told how to behave. Not knowing ‘how to play’ is not so much the fault of the environment, rather it is a consequence of being unable to relate to a world where the only rules are the ones that we make ourselves.

A child with an adult’s mentality would struggle to relate to the school playground. They would stand out like a sore thumb, unable to participate in what – to them – would be an alien and chaotic environment. They’d want to know how and where to play, the reasoning behind the games taking place, and they’d want to see a logical progression, with a definable start and finish, tangible objectives and a coherent strategy. They’d find it hard, if not impossible to play a game where direction of play, number of pursuers and pursued, ‘safe’ locations and allowable moves changed at the whim of those taking part and weren’t defined at the outset. They’d stand in the corner, feeling lost and alone, the words “I don’t know how to play this game”, quivering on their lips.

If we are to move beyond that initial paralysis, we have to allow a change of mindset to take place – by all means, retain those adult thought processes, but don’t deny the inner child its opportunity to play. Children are uniquely equipped to deal with a world that is intrinsically confusing and which requires imagination, energy and exploration if it is to have any meaning. Rules hinder that process, they stifle innovation and they prevent change. There’s only one hard and fast rule in sl and that is: ‘To hell with the rules!’

s. x

Decisions are made and not bought
But I thought this wouldn’t hurt a lot
I guess not
MGMT – Kids 

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