Introducing “Climate Balance Through Play”

I want to introduce a new process for finding Climate Balance. Less of a means of visualizing the climate crisis, it promotes a mindset with which both individuals and societies can combat the crisis daily. The significance of this new method is its global scope and deviation from and yet reliance on previous models of social networks, practices, exchanges and sacrifices. I advocate acquiring Climate Balance through a most fundamental activity, play.

However, “play” is a particularly amorphous term. It conveys and connotes a variety of meanings, from performance and improvisation, to games.  Rhetorically, play is powerful, as it constitutes so much of our daily experience and pervades how and what we do, particularly during this time, when games, trophies and rewards are becoming increasingly integrated into a diverse array of institutions.

Perhaps the best mode to regard play in the context of combating climate change is that of the game. Eric Zimmerman, in articulating his Rules of Play, describes the “environment” or “the context surrounding the system” (loc. 881) as an important component of the game. Through a variety of Zimmerman’s definitions, it can easily be discerned that games exist in relation to play and vice versa. The ever-shifting relationship of games and play can also be compared to Latour’s “collective,” in which the role of play within the game is subsumed and re-evaluated as we entertain ourselves.

Games provide a framework for safe play. Zimmerman tracks these structures, emphasizing the fluidity and commonality of such designs. Games are primarily defined by rules, as much as they are by competition. Ultimately, the most common feature that a game “proceeds according to rules that limit the player” imparts that near inexplicable feeling of safety and excitement as achieved in Johann Huizinga’s “magic circle,” the realm we enter to play.

The magic circle, with its guidelines, provides a schema for understanding and evaluating play within games, not dissimilar to Edwards’ contentions about the systems and models used to visualize and comprehend the climate. Since both games and climate require systems, they share comparable analytical perspectives as envisioned by various scholars including Alenda Chang, who while drawing attention to the environmental/systemic connections between games, does not provide a model for understanding “play” within that correlation.

I advocate play over “games” as a paradigm for fighting the climate crisis. Philosophically, play establishes a new focus on the experience of the individual. No form of play contains a non-physical component. By changing our rhetoric and attitude about play, our understanding of climate is moved from the systematic to the individual. In other words, we are able to think of “how do I play,” or perhaps more accurately, “what can I do,” rather than “what can I save” or “how is the environment affected.”

The consequences of orienting politics towards play can be found in more “archaic” models of society, namely that of the “potlatch,” observed by a diverse group of scholars including Marcel Mauss, George Bataille and Tiziana Terranova. This societal game of exchange and sacrifice, in which all actions of the tribe or clan had to be reciprocated and glory and “soul” were awarded for giving rather than receiving, exemplifies the transformative effect of competitive play in a real world environment. In Mauss’ analysis all parts of society were altered by the system of potlatch and it was in the convergence of the economical, religious, familial and political systems under the potlatch from which it acquired its efficacy. Play may represent a means of realizing the collective in our very actions and daily experiences.

In my future work, I plan to articulate more clearly on the interrelationship between systems of play and of the environment, explain why in the current age of climate collapse play is necessary, examine play in a variety of models, most notably Chang’s analysis of play environments, Mauss’ thesis of societal play, and, finally, touch on elements of play embedded within a social movement, namely Occupy Wall Street.

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