Play Memories from my Childhood

October 2nd, 2017

In the first Anji Play newsletter, Jesse, Chelsea, and the Anji Play team offered the following exercise:

When your goal is to convince someone to take an action, to change their stance or to change their community, you must first allow them to identify your ideals within their own experience. "Play Memory" is an incredibly valuable tool developed by Ms. Cheng that achieves just this end. As Ms. Cheng saw that her attempts to bring joyous play to the 130 public kindergartens under her supervision had resulted in "false play," children playing according to the expectation of their teachers, she asked herself and her teachers to reflect on their deepest memories of play as children.

Through this practice she began to identify common themes: outdoor play, risky play, play with large, minimally structured materials, play that took place over extensive periods of time without constant adult intervention. Her developing approach, and the environments and materials of Anji Play, were informed by these individual and collective memories.

When parents objected to the risky, self-determined play taking place in their children's schools, she asked these same parents to recall their deepest memories of play as children. In response to their joyous and wistful recollections, the natural next question became, "Don't you want your children to have these same experiences, these deeply ingrained memories that you carry with you to this day?"

I found this exercise to be very meaningful so I decided to share some of my deepest play memories.

The first is a fort that me and my brother and our neighbor created that we named Fort Jamiker (Jason + Mike +Ryan). There was a large ditch in the back of our backyard, and there were some shutters underneath the house that weren't being used for anything, so we cleared out all of the leaves in the ditch and laid down a tarp on the dirt so that we could sit in it comfortably. Then, we placed the shutters on top and brought some snacks in. The moment that you could snack in a space that you created was really transformational! This was probably one of the first times I realized that all spaces are made by someone and that I could actually be that someone.

The second deep memory I have from Connecticut is a race that my neighbors and I had one day. I didn't have a bike for some reason (I think it was broken), so my neighbors graciously offered to let me borrow theirs. Until this point in time I had always been a very cautious kid. I didn't want to do anything that had a risk of physical danger. For some reason on this day though, I decided I was going to go for the gusto. I pedaled as fast I could down the cal-de-sac, and ended up passing my older brother and all our neighbors and winning the race! But by the time I reached the finish line I had to slam on the breaks. What I didn't realize about the bike my neighbors had lent me is that the brakes were inverted - rear brakes on the left, front brakes on the right. So when I slammed on the brakes to stop my bike, it sent me flying. But by the grace of god, instead of falling, the bike and myself did a front flip! According to my friends, the we launched six feet in the air before landing, and continuing to ride out the rest of the landing. I have no idea how I stuck the landing but everyone was in complete awe of what happened. From that moment forward I was never the scaredy cat I was before! I learned a lot about risk through this experience.

A third memory is of a game that my brother and I created called Appliance Wars. In Appliance Wars, each player draws an appliance-themed super hero (toaster man, princess fridge, etc) and battle against each other. Each character has health, shield, and attack power, and the goal is to slowly use up all of your enemy's health before they do. What's fun about the game is that since it is just pen and paper, in order to deal damage, both players must first arrive at a consensus for how much the attacks do. It transforms the genre from being purely about wit to being also about performance and humor. Another fun side effect of the game being pen and paper is that each move leaves behind a trace of its existence so that not only do you have to be wise about leaving enough space on the page for future attacks, but you are also left with a wonderful archive of the entire game. Much like a cubist painting - you can see all moments in time of an Appliance Wars game all at once.

Another play memory (from much later in my life - highschool) was a game that my brother and I invented called flarf. In flarf, players take turns tossing forearm-sized logs into a fire pit from different locations in a back yard. There is no fire in the fire pit. It's like golf, but you don't get any closer to the hole. We played this seemingly simple game for hours and hours and hours. Now that we all live in our own houses, it's become a bit of a tradition that every new house gets a "flarf hole" (AKA fire pit). It's really amazing to me that such a simple concept could turn in a deeply personally meaningful tradition. Some summers we would play flarf almost every day. I think it speaks to both the power of the remix (the game is mostly just golf, but it felt like something we created completely on our own) as well as the value of insider vocab. I think jargon is an objectively bad thing in most communities, but for something like flarf, there's basically only one word you have to learn, and it's really fun to say, which creates a fun little mini-game for people to make puns using the word flarf, and see who can make the funniest joke about the goings-on.

These are the play memories that stick out the most to me and help to communicate the value of true play.

Let me know if anyone who reads this decides to go through the exercise on their own.