THE WORLD OF PLAY
“To put it simply, the birds sing
much more than Darwin permits.”
Friderich Buytendijk, The Meaning of Play
IN this chapter we discuss the role of play in Western civilization, and the ways in which plays and games create their own symbolic space, an enclave within civilization, which offers especially strong protection against fear and anxiety and is brimful with freedom and meaning.
Jürgen Moltmann (1972, 2), who wrote an important book on play, starts his argument by quoting an old spiritual from slave days:
“How can I play, when I’m in a strange land?”1
This is a beautiful and moving line, but I think that, at the same time, it asks the wrong question. To be in a strange land is no reason not to play. On the contrary, it may be our main reason to play. We play, and may have to play, precisely because we live in a strange land. Play creates for us a virtual world of safety and freedom within a strange land where safety and freedom are hard to find.