So, What’s Fun For You?
By Bernard De Koven
It’s hard to come up with a satisfactory definition
of “play.” Especially if you’re trying to find a definition that would
encompass all its various meanings and usages and implications and
nuances. Even both Merriam and Webster had to go to great lengths to
define the word.
Equally illustrated by the dictionaries is that play is not all about
fun, which makes the word even less useful – especially if you want to
understand fun, and more especially if you want to understand fun so you
can have more of it.
Fun, Merriam-Webster-wise, seems only slightly more
easily defined. Even Google had to take an entire second to look for
everything it could find about fun. Which turned out to be, according to
the Google count, 1,710,000,000 references to the word “fun” – as in one
billion, seven-hundred-ten million.
“Oy!” I say, as I am wont to do. Enough with the
meanings and the definitions and the nuances and the theories and
And it so happens the only reason you’re thinking
about the meanings of fun and play in the first place is because you
happen to be wondering if it’s at all possible for you to be having
maybe even a tad more fun than you’re already having.
In my many years of research into fun and how to
have it, the only conclusion I have been able to draw is that it’s
impossible to arrive at a satisfactorily universal definition of fun.
What’s fun for you might not be at all what’s fun
for me. For you, maybe kicking a ball is fun. For me, maybe blowing
bubbles. For you maybe looking for faces in the clouds, for me
solitaire. And no matter how detailed I get in depicting the joys of
solitaire or the very private fun to be gained when cheating – for you,
solitaire is a waste of time while finding cloud faces and maybe even
cloud animals is a practical pathway to paradise.
Now, the funny thing is that when I’m talking about
fun, I know exactly, precisely what I mean. I know when I’m not having
fun. That’s for sure. And I bet that the same is true for you.
So here’s the gist: what’s fun for me is not
necessarily fun for you. How you define fun is not necessarily at all
how anybody else would define fun. Although we can talk to each other
about fun, when I try to understand what you mean when you say “fun” I
think first about what I mean. Even if we’re talking about the same
game, we are each, when talking about the fun of it, probably talking
about something else.
And here’s the wisdom that I wanted to share with
Forget about consulting the Internet, about looking
for answers in books, about seeking out experts, consulting wise people,
asking your friends.
If you want to bring more fun into your life,
consult yourself. Take yourself for a walk or something. Put your arm
around your self’s conceptual shoulder so you feel close and easy. If
your self is Jewish, you might say something like “nu, so what’s fun for
you?” If not, maybe change the “nu” to “so” or “pardon me” or “yo!” Ask
yourself about the fun things, the things your self thinks of as being
Your self can start with anything at all that’s
even mildly fun for you. How about eating? When it’s fun, what are you
eating? What are you eating it with? What time are you eating? When was
the last time you ate before you started eating?
With whom are you eating? Where are you eating? Get
as specific, as particular, as vivid as you can about that moment of
eating when eating is unquestionably, undeniably fun for you.
The truth is, your self knows what fun means.
Because you know when something is fun – for you. So start there. Not
with trying to define it, because you already have defined it. But with
describing to yourself what you call fun – the things you do or feel or
think about that you think of as fun.
Don’t waste your time looking for the things that
are the most fun for you because that’s not the point. The point is that
anything you think of as fun, as being fun – even if the fun is as calm
as the fun of daydreaming or as intense as the fun of sky-diving – if
it’s fun, it’s fun enough.
Make a list. Make a long list. Maybe even write it
down. Specific things. Specific moments when those specific things seem
most clearly fun. Maybe not just sky-diving. Maybe the moment, the very
moment before the parachute opens. Maybe not just chewing gum, and not
just any gum, and not just when you’re putting a puzzle together, and
even then, not just any puzzle….
And as your list grows, and the items become more
vivid, so may your understanding of what’s fun for you, so may your
understanding of how and where you can find more fun, so too may you
grow your appreciation for the fun in your life and of your life.
And if that doesn’t work, try playing something.
Anything. And then play something else. And keep on playing and trying
until you find something to play that makes you forget about the whole
figuring-out-what-is-fun thing, because, finally, at last, you’re having
the very thing you’re trying to find.
In 1971, Bernie De Koven completed a
collection of over 1000 children’s games, organized according to
different forms and complexities of social interaction. Called the
Interplay Games Curriculum, and published by the School District of
Philadelphia, it led to his founding of The Games Preserve, a retreat
center for the exploration of games and play for adults, which
functioned as a branch of The New Games Foundation. In 1978, he
published The Well-Played Game, which was re-released by MIT Press in
2013. His most recent book, A Playful Path, was published the following
year. He has designed games of all kinds: board and table games,
computer games, social games for small and large groups, city-wide game
celebrations, theater games, games for couples, families, children, and
elders. But his greatest impact has been his development of a theory of
fun and playfulness and how it can affect every aspect of personal and
interpersonal, community, and institutional health.
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