My wife Cara is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. As such, we get the department's quarterly magazine, "CEHD (College of Education and Human Development) Connect." This month's feature article is entitled, "The Power of Play!" Naturally, I read it—and was struck by the number of connections this article makes with our hobby. I thought I'd share some of the highlights of the article with the idea that, with a little introspection, you might discover some of the switches and hot buttons which energize or de-fuse your passion for playing sports games.
First, we should probably establish that while sports games for most of us are accurately defined as "play," for some people in the hobby perhaps it's something else. I think there may be a reluctance for some to associate a full replay of the such-and-such season as being "play" they might view it more as research, or a personal mission. For me though, and I'm going to propose for most of us in the hobby, sports board games are, indeed, a form of play.
And "play" is an activity that no one should be ashamed of participating in. From the article, "play is about as blue-printed a behavior as you can have, in terms of basic survival and reproduction," says professor Stephanie Carlson of the Institute of Child Development. She notes that play is universal—children all over the world play without any instruction, even in places of danger and deprivation. "By definition, play has no immediate purpose, and it can be construed as a waste of time. But the fact that it's so universal has led us researchers to take it quite seriously."
In other words, people are meant to play, as evidenced by the wildly varying conditions within which play spontaneously happens, no coaching or prompting necessary.
I was fascinated by the list of bullet points the article presented which defined play from a clinical perspective. This list was created by Rachel E. White, "The Power of Play," a 2012 research summary on play and learning for the Minnesota Children's Museum. As you read these, think about how they might apply to your sports board game experience...
I think the first point is maybe the most important, and in my view it certainly applies to sports board games. If it's not "fun," it's not play. Now, I have always said it's not my place to define for someone else what's "fun." But I think it does explain why there's such a diversity of games in our hobby. The same game is trashed by one, adored by another. I think it's safe to say that, at least in part, it can be traced back to what each person feels is "fun."
Regarding the "play is voluntary" thought, I wonder if anyone else has ever gotten to a certain point in a sports game project where you're simply trying to FINISH it. If you're a "finish what you started" type of person, you can find yourself almost becoming a slave to it, making time to roll games for the sole purpose of finishing the season. I think it's at this point that it stops being "play," and morphs more into "work." Not that work is bad, mind you. Just saying that the complexion of the activity changes at that point, which might explain why the enthusiasm sometimes wanes. In this light, it's a perfectly natural reaction.
I am intrigued by the idea that "play is about the process," that "the means are more important than the ends." The "means" in this case would be the process of playing whatever sports game you've got on the tabletop. The "ends" would be—I think—who wins/loses, or, more pointedly for our discussion, how the stats come out. In other words, if you had fun but the stats were off, did the game fail? I am pretty sure that there won't be a consensus on this!
The idea that play must be active rather than passive is also interesting from a sports game perspective, especially when you contrast card-and-dice board games with PC games. One of the reasons I have never wanted to port my games over to computer is contained in this “active-vs.-passive” observation. The more automated a game is, the less active the gamer. With PC games that I have played, I have sometimes found myself sitting in front of the computer screen hitting "enter," "enter," "enter," etc., with whole chunks of the game flying by that I'm not really even connected to. Indeed, I can hit a key and have the entire game played for me, instantly—which is about as passive involvement as a person can have! Now, again, I am not criticizing PC games or gamers, I'm simply making the suggestion that such an activity may or may not be "play" at least not by the clinical standard.
Finally, it's not a disgrace to admit that when we play sports board games, we are "pretending." The word "pretend" may sound rather childish, but there is a place for "pretending" in the adult world, as well. Indeed, when we practice a speech or role-play a business situation in advance of an important meeting, we are engaging in "pretending," with definite advantages produced and benefits gained. There is intrinsic value to pretending, as it is exhibited in play. To return to the premise of the article, play is universal and ingrained into our being—it's nothing to be ashamed of. It makes us better people, happier and more fulfilled. Thus, when we play sports games and then write up reports for posting on facebook or Delphi, we are "pretending"—and through this process of "pretend play," we are gaining fulfillment, joy and happiness. What's wrong with THAT? (Nothing!)