The Secret to Engaging Your Brain

September 5, 2007

Recently, a nifty little gadget called the Nintendo DS was introduced into my life. I was skeptical at first, I must say. Like many in my generation, I grew up with Mario, Duck Hunt, Zelda, you know, the original Nintendo gang. I had my ventures into PC  games, starting with Ski and evolving into hours spent on SimCity, Myst, etc. My dad was an early adopter on most any technology, so it’s always been around. My mom used to have to almost literally pry me away from the computer or gaming system. But somewhere between Excite Bike and now, save the occasional Saturday afternoon with Guitar Hero or SSX, I lost that gaming urge.

Until DS and a neat little game called Brain Age entered into the picture. I will say, it was a not-too-hidden attempt by my boyfriend to seek my approval of the device when we sauntered into the local game shop to pick up the game. But now, here I am again, waiting for my turn spending every spare moment I can testing my prowess on skill tests like Sign Finder (a simple math drill where you have to see how quickly you can give the correct sign in a given equation to a series of problems) and Piano Player (essentially what it sounds like). I even joined the Sudoku obsession with its easy to learn tutorials. The game even offers daily “Brain Age” checks where it gives you an approximation of your brain’s age. And since I’m a total geek, I totally dig it. I try to play every day. So much I’ve logged more hours than my boyfriend (on his own device!) Now, I’m even considering branching out to more play oriented games. I seriously love it. It’s refreshing and exhiliraing to do something for the pure fun of it.

So, what does all this have to do with anything I usually blog about? A lot, it turns out. In grad school, I’ve run across a concept called play theory. Essentially, it looks at the activity and rites that make up play in a lot of different and interesting ways. And there’s a lot of interesting research on the concept.

An organization called the National Institute for Play defines play as: “a state of being that is intensely pleasurable. It energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens, renews a natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities. These wonderful, valuable qualities are just the beginning of what play is.” Peppy though the definition is, they are serious about play, outlining eight patterns of play. Their research is fascinating. They offer interesting perspectives into cases such as that of Charles Whitman, suicidal mass murderer, whose life was has been classified as play deprived – which a committee found to be the leading cause of his eventual horrendous acts. A worst case scenario that illustrates the importance of play in normal human development.

Turns out, play is vital to health, relationships and education according to the institute. And interestingly enough, they also emphasize the value of play in corporate life.

So there you have it. Play. It’s important – for creativity, innovation, ideation, complex thinking, for our brains. It’s more than just taking a break or enjoying a minute of relaxation. It’s an active, conscious, enjoyable process. And it’s healthy – even vital. So go ahead. Play. Don’t feel guilty about picking up the Xbox or digging out your kid’s Lego’s for a half hour or so. You deserve it. And if you just take a few minutes each day for guilt-free, all holds barred play time, your blog, co-workers, work product, family and body will thank you.

Give yourself permission to play.


5 Responses to “The Secret to Engaging Your Brain”

  1. You have been tagged for The Personal Development List. Thank you for the comment earlier. Yes, the W-list has been a great inspiration. It created a wonderful ripple effect.

  2. Tiffany Says:

    That’s great news! Thanks for letting me know!

  3. I often take a break from gaming, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I get into games too much. Deleting a game from my PC is sometimes the only sure-fire way I can keep it from intruding on my To-do List.

  4. Tiffany Says:

    Yes, it is hard to control your time when it comes to play, that’s why it’s important to limit yourself to a specific amount of time. And that’s hard – even for me. Maybe that’s why so many adults avoid it – becuase they don’t want to have to limit their time.

    But whether it’s gaming or playing softball or picking up a good old fashioned board game, it’s important to play. We make so much time for being passively entertained – movies, tv, etc. – but that doens’t benefit our brains in the same way.

  5. […] I fell in love with the idea. I’m a big advocate of engaging your brain, playing, of doing whatever you can to continually learn and stay sharp. But I also don’t have a […]

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