What if we just took the “what if?” state of mind to be playing? I find I really need a definition, and this is both simple and versatile (I can’t be the only one who finds the concept of play both critical — especially to any idea of creativity — and difficult to pin down.). It occurred to me rereading the introductory chapter of Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, swimming through many, many examples toward a a common feature. “What if?” is sometimes suggested to fiction writers as a way of generating ideas. But it must apply anywhere people are up against conventions, established patterns, habit, which is to way, everywhere. Play would then be a kind of willing suspension of the usual understanding of “reality”. The details of any particular suspension would be spelled out in the “rules” of a game — if there are enough players and enough differences to make that necessary. Play may – and often does – involve one person alone. But there’s no limit on the numbers that could join in. Play, by this definition, is not exclusive to human beings, but it seems particularly basic, essential.
Best of all, such a definition leaves any one person’s engagement in play open, in fact contingent on that person’s freedom. For the suspension of understandings must be voluntary and must have appeal — aesthetic appeal. S/he must want to play.