Thursday, January 14, 2010

Creative Play "IS" The "Thing": Boyd and Spolin





I am a firm advocate of no-holds-barred, creative and open play, imagine that...  But look here and at Viola Spolin's interview below, then assess what has been going on with computer games and other RPGs which imitate them.  The history of the disintegration of play in our recent society is mind-numbing.  All the more reason to stand firm in the trenches with what the earliest versions of Dungeons and Dragons promulgated and what is still the most expressive and imaginative form of play being engendered in RPG today.

Viola Spolin was the advocate of Neva Boyd's Theory of Play.  Below is a rare interview of her.  Note that this site and the papers and research contained there is a great resource on Boyd's modern evolution of play as then founded at the Hull House, Chicago, Illinois.  That this forward step then is now being challenged in our society today is not only a great leap backwards but threatens the very notion of intuitive growth in children, fore-ordaining them to prescriptions for the mind and limiting choice (sound familiar??)  Boyd's and Spolin's tenants:  Spontaneity, Heightened Awareness and Transformation. These are the very cornerstones of the open-ended OD&D mindset.  Take a look at her interview:

14 comments:

David said...

Finally something in my field, eh? I have to say Spolin has a few good points to make. I'm afraid some of her work has since been supplanted, and some of her ideas are ideologically flawed from the premise, but beyond that, she's right about the fact that too much structure can be detrimental, especially when it comes to enforcing linear thinking. Good find!

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Thanks David, I have been researching game theory for some time of course.

Might you be more informative about what theories of hers (or Boyd's which found immediate incorporation at the highest teaching levels) are flawed or supplanted? Thanks again.

Endymion said...

Yes, this seems to theorize what you've been saying for a long time, Rob. I remember something similar in a book a teacher suggested I read years ago: Architect or Bee. It was an exploration about how computer assisted drafting was altering building design -- what had been a rather spontaneous creative process was being modularized (like with CRPGs). It was discussed in the context of a course on the philosophy of technology, the upshot of the book (and the course) being that technology really doesn't exist to make life easier or to open up possibilities for us, but to control us, channel us into prescribed modes of interacting and thinking. We all become drones serving the masters of the hive (and their marketing machine). It's very Orwellian (and I'm no conspiracy theorist) but (in my experience) it's very true.

Endymion said...

Here's a recent, related commentary on technological control in our lives:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427390.100-free-yourself-from-oppression-by-technology.html

Chgowiz said...

Thank you for this. I'm not very learned in any field, but I enjoy reading and seeing where things can go and be investigated. At a instinctual level, I feel like this makes a lot of sense.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

@Endymion.

>The other factor is relatedness: our need to feel close to other people. Technology is a threat to this. Devices like the iPod can be used to create a bubble that disconnects us from normal human interactions, and while some virtual relationships may be truly meaningful, in many cases they come at the expense of real-world connections. Psychologists have found that the pivotal difference between happy and unhappy people is the presence or absence of rich and satisfying social relationships. Spending meaningful time with friends, family and partners is necessary for happiness.<

Well this is too true. Online gaming can be added to the list. I grew up with TV, yes, but when we saw our shows, cartoons or other (Batman!) we were done and out the door, gallivanting about the rich expanse of life. Then we had the books and toys (army men and make believe with those, etc) and all that imaginary terrain. Times have become challenging for kids in this respect, but certainly parents have not forgotten their own upbringing?

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

@Chgowiz: Hey, what we learn we often pass along. I actually wish I had the time to do a workshop of sorts and teach what little I know about some subjects which I feel are extremely important not only in relation to games, but for people in general. Glad to be of service. :)

bubbagump said...

Sorry it took so long to get back to you on this, Rob, but here goes:

Boyd and Spolin do have much of worth to say concerning play, spontaneity, and similar concepts, however most objections to their work stem not from that work's content but from the degree to which its concepts are emphasized and applied beyond their respective fields, especially in relation to child development. For example, both suggest that competition is undesirable and that a “structureless” model is the most desirable form of play. In terms of child development, they are very wrong as demonstrated by more studies than I care to remember. Both competition and some form of structure are not only desirable but necessary, or else their absence will have surprisingly negative effects. However, Spolin and Boyd do have a point to make in that too much structure and the wrong form of competition can be negative as well. Competition need not be adversarial or confrontational, and structure need not be restrictive.

Note: This is an extract from my original reply, which apparently was far too long to be accepted here. If you want the remaining 1,000 or so words, let me know and I'll email 'em to you.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Thanks Bubba. I believe we agree, but do note my newest post which expands upon Boyd's concepts of competition and the false values she is seeing attached to them. She does not strike down competing inasmuch as thosel parts which have become attached to it and are ignoble. This is my understanding.

bubbagump said...

Yep, I'd say we're pretty much in agreement. 'Great minds' and all that, eh? ;-)

Chris T said...

Interesting video. She's right
competition =/= creativity
People become too preoccupied about the other guy and what the boss thinks to be creative, as she says. It's one of those obvious things that has been obscured by decades of PR crap.

I gotta read this Neva Boyd piece..

Have you seen any of Adam Curtis' documentaries? I think the The Trap goes into game theory. But more in the sense of how it shaped the Cold War etc and how it isn't suitable for planning economies etc. It mentions John Nash who was one of the main proponents of game theory but later in his life he disavows it.

Well worth checking out. You may be able to download it in higher res if you look around. Archive.org have a few but not the more recent ones.

Endymion could you find any other links? I'm afraid that link wasn't very helpful: mostly a lot of platitudes I've read before (not that I disagree with them generally).

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

@ChrisT: Thanks for those links! The research continues. Enjoy your own reads and thanks for chiming in such a progressive way. Much appreciated. :)

reefaround said...

So fascinating to see this work discussed in an entirely different game context! I'm a Spolin teacher and I'd agree that she makes a distinction between contest and competition, contest being a natural part of game play and desired for achieving involvement and spontaneity. Competition is antithetical to her work because it encourages behavior that goes against group work (not to mention counteracts the physical and mental freedom needed to get 'out of the head' so you can create spontaneous scenes with other players). Also, as Spolin discusses in Improvisation for the Theater, it's the structure of a game that allows the space where the creative play takes place. Without that structure, there's no educational value (for workshop purposes). I would add that her and Boyd's ideas have been continually proven correct by "learner-centered" theories of pedagogy.

Thanks for posting on this subject!

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

@reefaround: Valuable insights, thank you; and do feel free to post on the very subject itself. I for one would love to hear of your own experiences in this profession.

In fact, for anyone wishing to author creative matter here, please contact me at: rjk@pied-piper-publishing.com and I will add you to the author's list.