The Difference Between Play & Fun

This little piece of art by Lynda Barry stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it:

[Image description: A lovely, stylized, yellow hand-drawn image that looks almost like it was drawn on a piece of yellow memo paper. It has lots of lovely little flower illustrations around the sides and reads, “Playing and fun are not the same thing, though when we grow up we may forget that, and find ourselves mixing up playing with happiness. There can be a kind of amnesia about the seriousness of playing, especially when we played by ourselves.” There is a little arrow pointing to an illustration of a girl playing by putting dandelions into a jar, and speaking to herself while she does so. She is saying, “There was a remedy, it was a potion, and the girl discovers it and the village is saved. You need 24 flowers. Ok, here they are. Ok, thanks.” End description.]

It’s so true! And it’s also true that it’s easy to forget as adults and classify play as “fun” (and from there it’s a short leap to “unimportant”, I find…)

But when I play as an adult, I’m not necessarily having fun the entire time. It might be very serious or very emotional. My favorite play is playing D&D, a collaborative storytelling game in which the characters might have terrible things happen to them or face great challenges. I definitely don’t just want fun, lighthearted, lack of challenge or seriousness the entire time (although there is plenty of room for that too).

I played the same way when I was a child. I imagined worlds, and terrible and serious things often happened in those worlds 😂 Even my own children, who are 5 and 3 and too young to really know about any particular terrible things, do play “car crashes” and “tower is on fire” and “this action figure is mad at that action figure” and “the baby is sad” quite frequently.

Play is not fun/happiness, play is work and learning and exploring, with the whole range of emotions that accompany that. ❤