This section was written by Delfina Newton.
What is Play?
Play can often be a misunderstood entity when it comes to Tourism and Hospitality, simply because many relate play to children, not adults. When it is understood that play is a lifespan phenomenon and adults do indeed play it is easier to see that play is at the heart of these two entities from a consumer point of view. As a professional in the hospitality industry, it is important to understand the concept of play and its overall impact on the health and wellness of those who participate in entertainment and recreation pursuits. Play is the natural path to learning for all ages. It truly is a life-long phenomenon with benefits that only increase as we get older not decrease as was once thought.
The field of neuroscience considers play a basic need as important as water, food, and air. In essence, if we don’t play, we don’t survive (Brown & Vaughn, 2009). That statement is powerful, but the more we learn about play the more we realize it is essential to the survival of our species (Carr, 1902). Play sets the brain up for learning at all ages and unites the learning that happens in all areas of development; cognition, psychomotor, affective, social, and creative (Jensen, 2000; Shore, 1997). Play is also the foundation for all relationships; family, friends, classmates, and colleagues (Creasey, Jar is, & Berk, 1998; Erikson, 1963; Goleman, 1995; Piaget, 1962; Rubin & Howe, 1986; Rubin, Maioni, & Harmung, 1976; Rubin, Watson, & Jambor, 1978; Sutton-Smith, 1997; Vygotsky, 1978). Even corporate America has seen the value in play and provides leadership training based on play principles. Some organizations incorporate play into the architectural design of their workspaces like Google and Yahoo. Why take the stairs down when you can slide? Adults have been permitted to play and they are not wasting time. The tourism industry continues to grow and the opportunities to play are endless.
Before I begin sharing with you the benefits of play we must define our terms. Your ideas and definition of play come from your unique experiences. How do you define play? Remember there is no right or wrong answer. Who is play for? First, consider your definition of play, then read on.
Play is a strong pillar in the foundation of the hospitality, tourism, and recreation industry. Vacations are an integral feature of modern life for many people in developed nations (Rubenstein, 1980). There is an underlying assumption in our society that tourism is a mentally and physically healthy pursuit to follow in our leisure time (Hobson & Dietrich, 1994). When individuals plan a vacation the very characteristics of play are at the forefront, whether consumers realize it or not. Play is a widely researched notion covered under multiple disciplines. Most researchers acknowledge that different types of play may need to be defined in different ways and that definitions may vary according to the biases that come from one’s school of thought. Yet the following eight characteristics of play are evident among children and adults everywhere in the world. It is these eight characteristics that allow us to distinguish play from non-play behavior. I have students every semester who realize, by focusing on the following characteristics of play, they are more playful than they originally thought. These characteristics make it easier for adults to reopen themselves to the notion of play. The eight common characteristics of play include:
- Intrinsically motivating
- Voluntary or freely chosen
- Perceptual freedom (Internal Locus of Control)
- Enjoyable, pleasurable, and fun
- Actively engaging
- Non-literal, a level of pretense or make-believe exist
Play is intrinsically motivating because the motivation to take part in the activity comes from within the player. There is no extrinsic motivation, reward, or prize. The reward and the motivation to participate in the activity is the pleasure the activity itself brings. Extrinsic motivation means the motivation to participate in play comes from outside the individual with some reward or prize given for participation. There has been extensive research exploring motivation, and the results demonstrate that for there to be optimal benefit the play needs to be intrinsically motivating. Tourists on vacation for pleasure not business have the freedom to engage in intrinsically satisfying activities, and take pleasure from them, under conditions of relative freedom from obligations and external constraints (Cohen, 1974; Iso-Ahola, 1983; Yiannakis, 1986).
The goals and rules of play are self-imposed by the player which requires play to be process-oriented. When we focus on the process versus the product it is an entirely different experience. For example, if we ask preschoolers to use 3-D materials to make a picture of their face, they might put the eyes where the ears go and the nose where the mouth goes. A person who focuses on the process enjoys the discussion the child has with peers, how he/she shares the materials with others, and the creativity the child demonstrates in the placement of art materials. A person who focuses on the product continually tells the child “that’s not where that goes, it goes here.” They interrupt the child throughout the activity to correct their work. When we focus on the process, we allow the player the freedom to act and engage with materials in their environment.
That leads us to the notion that play needs to be voluntary and freely chosen. If there is any type of extrinsic motivation involved it is not ‘true play.’ Extrinsic motivators may include money, television time, playtime, and video game time. There is some external reward to participate. If children are forced or even gently pressured into play, they may not regard the assigned activity as play at all. Players must have perceptual freedom because it allows the player to explore ideas and how he/she thinks about the world without worrying about being judged by others (Levy, 1983).
A player must have an internal locus of control which means they need to perceive that they are in control of their actions and the outcomes of those actions (Levy, 1983). For example, I am playing a game of basketball, and it is down to the wire with seconds left in the game. I dribble down the court dodging this way and that way. At the sound of the buzzer, I throw the ball towards the hoop. Incredibly, I score and win the championship game. The crowd roars! All of this sounds great, but in reality, I am playing alone. There is no cheering crowd or buzzer, and honestly, I did not even get the ball near the basket. By having an internal locus of control, the sky's the limit to the adventure my play possesses. Players have the freedom to express their ideas and engage with materials without worrying about the judgments of others. In fact, in play, there is no judgment! If a player must be concerned about what others are thinking it interrupts the flow of play and the play ideas.
Play also needs to be spontaneous. As much as we need to make time for play, we need to allow for spontaneity and “spur of the moment” play opportunities. For example, a child beats boredom at the bank by spinning around the pole or playing with the ropes while waiting in line. When you crumple a piece of paper and set up your shot at the wastebasket and you shoot and, “SCORE!” The crowd goes wild! Perhaps when you are sitting by a campfire and all of a sudden someone taps you on the shoulder and shouts, “You’re it,” as you scramble to chase the former tagger. In play, children and adults are free to do the unexpected, change the rules, and experiment with novel combinations of behavior and ideas. We are never too old to play!
One of the most important notions of play is that the play experience must be enjoyable or pleasurable. Ultimately, if I am not having fun, I am not playing, regardless of how much fun someone else might be having. What is enjoyable and fun for one person may not be fun and enjoyable for another.
Play also needs to be actively engaging. Children become deeply absorbed as they explore, experiment, and create. Active players are not just sitting back letting things happen around them. They are active hands-on players. They are absorbed with the materials and the flow of the activity with little attention given to the activities around them.
Play must also be non-literal or wrapped in a level of pretense. When we play we explore thoughts and ideas using our imaginations, and our play behaviors should not be taken seriously. This is why there is no judgment in play. When one is in the land of make-believe the opportunities for adventure are endless. This non-literal characteristic distinguishes play from non-play behavior as children treat objects, actions, or events as if they were something else. Play provides the ability to imagine whether that be for role play or imagining a vacation experience (Fiefer, 1986) the possibilities are endless.
Before we go jumping into the play literature, we need to discuss recreation and leisure. To some recreation and leisure are the same, but there is more to each of them than one usually believes. Instead of thinking of recreation as an activity, let’s think of recreation as an experience. Recreation is defined as an emotional condition within an individual that flows from a feeling of self-satisfaction and wellbeing. It is characterized by feelings of mastery, achievement, exhilaration, acceptance, success, personal worth, and pleasure. Recreation is a response to an aesthetic experience, the achievement of personal goals, or positive feedback from others (Greben & Gray, 1974). It is generally rule-driven, with specific rules outlining the recreation process along with an expected outcome. It must be recognized that the values of recreational activities to the individual are not automatically realized through the act of participation. Only the potential for the development of the benefits is inherent in recreational experiences (Shivers & Fait, 1985). Positive individual reactions to the programs, as well as circumstances appropriate to the development of the benefits received from recreational experiences, are essential (1985). Although individuals generally have a similar physiological response to participation in physical recreation experiences, the rate and degree of physical and motor fitness development are highly individualized. In most cases, for recreational experiences to be of the greatest value, they must be planned and tailored to the individual (1985).
Leisure, on the other hand, connotes several meanings but generally refers to time, activity, and experience (Henderson & Shaw, 1996). Time refers to discretionary periods in one’s life that are available to do whatever one wishes. Leisure is the time beyond that needed to do work or daily maintenance activity. Frequently, time is modified by leisure to describe the period in which one chooses what to do. When we look at leisure as an activity, it refers to reaction pursuits done during free time. Any activity can be leisure such as sports, volunteering, cultural activities, cooking, sewing, quilting, etc. The experience of leisure as possessing meaning has become a common way to conceptualize leisure because of the importance placed on freedom of choice as a prerequisite for leisure. This idea suggests that what a person does, or when one does it, does not make any difference; what is important is how the individual feels about an experience. Experience of leisure reflects a subjective, qualitative view and the dimensions of choice and intrinsic outcomes, as reflected in attitudes toward what one does, have been considered generally the most important criteria in this conceptualization. Leisure is free from obligation so the individual can be free to choose what to do. Leisure allows one to realize a sense of freedom, choice, and enjoyment or pleasure whether through relaxation, contemplation, or recreation activity all of which add positively to one’s quality of life (Meeber, 1993; Rejeski & Mihalko, 2001).
It was once presented to me that leisure could be seen as a container. How we fill our containers is up to us. I fill my container with playing with my children, board games, swimming, rollerblading, tennis, sewing, knitting, and writing. My sons, on the other hand, fill their containers with martial arts, exercise, skateboarding, and video games. How you choose to fill your container is up to you. Bear in mind your container is unique to you and you and you alone control what gets put inside.
Play, leisure, and recreation are valuable tools for each of us to utilize. In today’s fast-paced society, we are burning the candle at both ends faster than ever before. We often find ourselves forced into obligations that leave us little room for freedom and choice. Play-based learning activities provide multiple ways for children and adults to learn a variety of different skills and concepts. When children and adults are concerned about their competency or adequacy, they cannot make sense of their learning because emotions drive attention, create meaning, and forge their own memory pathways (Goleman, 1995). A child’s active participation in his or her world facilitates mastery and control, leading to a feeling of competence and self-efficacy. Both contribute to young children’s sense of self. Play, along with recreation and leisure, allow children and adults to make important discoveries about themselves, including their own likes and dislikes, what makes them happy or frustrated and so much more. They learn to understand the feelings of others and develop empathy. Play, recreation, and leisure each yield lifelong benefits that I encourage you to take advantage of today.
Play is a state of mind that is safe, inquisitive, and exists for the moment. Playful discovery is a doorway to learning. It allows children time to develop and improve skills which they will need later in life (Groos, 1901). Carr (1902) states that play is essential for the survival of the species. When we trace back the history of play to the Greek framework, we find that play was related to the development of the human ideal (Moore, 1972). Play was the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature (Jaeger, 1965). Initially, it seemed as if play was associated with childhood, but the highly valued activities of adult life could be classified as play as well (Moore, 1972). For example, the theatre, musical concerts, and athletic events could be seen as play activities for adults. The adults freely chose what events they participated in. Play was considered an aspect of enculturation and cultural reinforcement. Play provided children opportunities to learn the values of the culture. Aristotle supported happiness as an ultimate goal, through the fulfillment of the individual (Shivers, 1958). Aristotle also saw that play was a cathartic experience. Catharsis allows for a relief of stress, when not released, can cause illness in the body both physically and mentally. The ancient Greek attitude toward play has laid a foundation for what is now known as hospitality and tourism. Tourists travel for a variety of reasons but when we travel for pleasure play is at the heart of the plans; we want to be in control, let our realities go, be spontaneous, and most importantly, have fun.
G.T.W. Patrick (1916) developed the Recreation-Relaxation Theory. The concept of play as an alternative to work is embodied in the assumption that “play revitalizes and restores the mentally and physically tired (Sapura & Mitchell, 1961). This theory proposes that people find a change in activity refreshing and that relaxation of tensions through play regenerates the human organism in preparation for a return to work. Many of us can relate to this theory after walking our dogs, going to the gym, riding our bikes, surfing a wave, or whatever it is we do for fun. When we return to our responsibilities we are refreshed and ready to tackle challenges. Tourism is an industry that enhances the state of mankind not only by providing jobs and temporal enjoyment but also by offering the types of experiences that can provide enduring types of satisfaction that positively impact the overall quality of life of those participating in the play or tourism experience (Neal, Uysal, Sirgy, 2007).
Karl Groos defined play as an act performed solely because of the pleasure it affords. With pleasure, there is play (Groos 1901). Groos proposed a theoretical position that reinforces the concept of play defined in the beginning. From a physiological standpoint, the surplus energy and recreation of exhausted powers are aspects of play (Moore, 1972). Many of us can relate to this. Just when we think we have no energy left, we take part in something we enjoy and suddenly we are the energizer bunny ready for action. From a biological standpoint, play is the agency employed to develop crude powers and prepare them for life’s uses (Groos, 1901). We witness this in infant development because it happens a bit slower, whereas toddlers and preschoolers learn new things at a rapid rate.
From a psychological standpoint, play is the “joy of being the cause” (Groos, 1901). Play provides the illusion and escape through simulation, but not a duplication of reality. Through the feeling of freedom, man is released from the serious pressures of life (Moore, 1972). We need to be released from serious pressures even if it is just for a moment. From an aesthetic standpoint, Groos associates aesthetics with play through identifying the response to sensory stimulation as the universal basis for play (Groos, 1901). We learn through our senses and we play because we are being stimulated. He feels that inner imitation is a function of ego expression, done for the pleasure of the artist, not for external reward (Groos, 1901). The pleasure of the artist comes from within the process (Moore, 1972).
Groos sees play from a sociological standpoint where play unites cultures in shared values and experiences. Play provides the individual with a sense of group identity (Moore, 1972). Through play, children are provided opportunities to absorb their culture’s values, enculturation. From a pedagogical standpoint, play is a natural means to learn and education should be inclusive of it. Groos felt adults have obligations to ensure that children are encouraged and guided in play. Groos’s work is by far one of the most comprehensive to date. Rather than tackle one aspect of play, he demonstrates the many variables that impact play and the players who choose to participate. The overall benefits of play are real and Groos’s work demonstrates just how real. His work is still relevant today.
Play is something that many of us took for granted. We have been conditioned to believe that only children play and adults work. Fortunately for our generation and those to follow, play and the benefits it affords adults are beginning to be explored. The self-discovery play affords does not stop because we hit puberty or middle age. We no longer must wait until our golden years to enjoy the benefits of play, recreation, and leisure. “We don’t regret the things we do, we often regret the things we don’t do” is the common theme among the seniors I talk to. Play spans all generations for that I have no doubt (Sutton-Smith, 1997; Yarnal, 2004). I will never forget a trip to the hot springs in Tahoe and my youngest son jumped into one of the jacuzzis with seniors in it. He was reminded not to jump in such shallow water but also it wasn’t there for kids. His response brought smiles to all our faces, “you mean it’s just for big kids?” Play knows no age limit and the benefits only increase as we get older not decrease as was once thought.
Play in Hospitality
Play is at the heart of the hospitality and tourism industry and is the reason the industry exists. Elements of play can be found in all tourist activities (Kane & Tucker, 2004). Why do people go on vacation and travel? They want to play and have fun seeing and doing things they have only dreamed of. Vacations open the door to play. While on vacation some people look for a physical or mental challenge to test their abilities (Gyimothy & Mykletun, 2004) while others just want to relax and sit by a pool (Lehto, Fu, Li, & Zhou), both are examples of play. A theorist that comes to mind Huizinga, author of Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture (1950). He contended that play has a symbiotic quality; the act of engaging in play fosters stepping out and distancing from normal life. Young and old alike enjoy traveling and all that the hospitality and tourism industry can provide. Vacations are the time people step out of their comfort zones and embrace life. Travel is a playful way of keeping mentally, physically, and emotionally active (Yarnal, 2004). With an understanding and value for play and its place in the industry, tourism professionals can better plan and prepare for opportunities that will enhance the experiences of guests with and without disabilities. Travel is often so central to people’s lives that many are not quite sure what they will do when they are no longer mobile (Yarnal, 2004). The reality is they don’t have to let go of travel once they are immobile. Many of the venues in the hospitality and tourism industry provide fully inclusive opportunities with an understanding of play and provide diverse opportunities for their guests to participate in and enjoy themselves. After all no one is forcing them, they have the freedom to choose what they will do for fun while on vacation. The sky's the limit to what can be provided for guests. Students with strong programming skills can create play opportunities that will keep the guests returning. More and more is being done to include individuals with disabilities in play, recreation, and leisure programming. All individuals need to take time to vacation, at what point do we begin to add years to our lives? (Mejia, 2018). Research in travel and tourism shows that travel has many direct and indirect positive benefits, such as greater levels of happiness, improved health, increased longevity, increased self-esteem, greater satisfaction with various aspects of life, and greater overall life satisfaction (Diener, 1984; Kilbourne, 2006; Sirgy, 2001, 2002). The field of Hospitality, Tourism, and Recreation has deep roots in play philosophies. Professionals who value play, open up a host of career options. Couple that value of play with strong programming skills and the sky's the limit to potential careers available. Potential careers include but are not limited to:
- Hotel Recreation Director
- Event Manager
- Recreation Therapist
- Recreation Director
- Recreation Leader
- Recreation Specialist
- Tour Guides/Escorts
- Theme Park Director
- Convention Coordinator
- Club/Resort/Hotel Manager
- Social Director
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