Thoughts on the train

Sitting in some peace on the train home from a wonderful day out in Exeter to participate in Tara Woodyer‘s Playability workshop.

This was an ESRC-funded workshop hosted and organised by Tara and colleagues in the Exeter University Geography department.

It’s nearly always a pleasure to go somewhere new, and to meet interesting people and to explore. It is enjoyable to wander round other university campuses and pick up their particular feel and style and to wonder what it is like to be a student there, what their issues and priorities and subcultures and traditions are.

We were made really welcome in the large, light circular Senate Chamber. A great room for a meeting, though not completely customisable if you want to do games in the middle (Play Torbay!)

There were four presentations in the morning, with questions, followed by introductions. In the afternoon we split into two groups for discussions on topics arising from the morning and from the questions outlined on the Playability website.

It was really good to chat afterwards to Seth Giddings, whose own research has drawn on many of the influences I am now looking at. For example, we talked briefly about Latour, Haraway, McLuhan; and I almost mentioned Ihde, Stiegler and Simondon, but didn’t, yet I see from his various websites that his work has also drawn on these thinkers.

It struck me again (I can’t remember when it last struck me, but it has done!) how there is a whole lot of research work in the area of media and technology studies around play and games that doesn’t tend to specifically reference children’s play, but that playworkers and playwork-oriented researchers could benefit from. Not to mention all the other work going on around play and performance and public gaming by people like Hannah Nicklin, Andy Field, Hide’n’Seek etc. Anyway.

Others I was pleased to meet and chat with include: Philip Waters who works creatively with children and play possibilities at the Eden Project ; Tomas Rawlings who is a game designer who clearly thinks a lot about play and playfulness; Sarah-Jane Dowson and Tanny Stobart from Play Torbay; and Ian Cook and John Wylie from Exeter Geography.

Another overlap (forgive me, I can’t resist a nice overlap) was with the Philosophy of Computer Games conference going on at the same time, but in Madrid. I’m doubtful that materiality was mentioned much in Madrid, yet there must have been other areas where the two events could have been talking to each other!

I got such an incredible buzz from meeting up with geographers, and researchers from other disciplines, who are looking at play, and sharing ideas and enthusiasms.

Some interesting areas to me were the tensions, in discussions, between the desire to frame play in terms of learning, or behaviour, or rules, versus the angle on play that Tara’s work provides, which is to accentuate the tactility and proximity and micro-movements of skin, fingers, heads, toys, fur, plastic and other surfaces that constitute the material basis of the affective – and sometimes affectionate – experiences of play.

My questions after leaving the event are:
1. Can we do another one next year? I know, I know: just because this was great, there doesn’t have to be another one… but… I wonder.

2. What about the ‘connections’ bit of ‘material connections’? There was in my opinion a lot of talk about play and toys and players and their various ontological statuses …. but relatively little about the relations between them, the microethnographical details (smartly laid out by Tara in her opening provocation) of connection and contact and clash and cuddle. Perhaps that’s just not where we collectively ‘were’ today (maybe an emphasis for a follow-up?!)

3. Who’s up for submitting an abstract for Tara’s epic Ludic Geographies session at the RGS-IBG this summer? I’d love to talk about something collaborative if anyone from today wants to throw ideas around with me.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the train

  1. “relatively little about the relations between them”


    children, who can easily get excluded from the topic list, rather like poor Africans begging outside a UN summit, are not interested in toys.

    (please don’t mistake me for the sort of buffoon who wants to include children in adult conferences about play: kids no more want to talk about play with boffins than frenchmen want to talk to boffins about the experience of being french and a man. any responses gleaned are likely to be instructive only for students of colourful vernacular reproductive language.)

    animals will seek out salt when their bodies need it, and, if given the chance, will gorge to the point of obesity on sugar.


    play = salt
    computer games = sugar.

    children are interested in other children.

    we know that humans are social animals, we know that the most important part of the ‘environment’ for starlings is other starlings, so why aren’t we more interested in the ‘connections’?

    that franzen novel might have been really interesting if it had been called ‘the connections’.

    there’s a glorious mechanism which boots up human culture in any group of baby humans growing up together.

    the very best example is the new sign language which developed in orphanages for deaf kids in Nicaragua in the 70s or 80s.

    we could, if we wanted find out so much more about all this.



    i still don’t know why you want to do a Phud, Francis, and i apologise if my scab-picking curiosity is becoming a little wearing, but for me it happened something like this:

    i vaguely wanted to help to make the world a better place after i graduated, having found that research on animal psychology was not for me.

    looking back, i can see that i thought i needed to study psychology because i didn’t understand people, my family in particular, then i wandered into situations which i could make sense of, because they were structured in some way.

    that’s how i meandered into playwork, and then later, training, then later still management training.

    still dont know what brings you to want to do a Phud, though.


  2. Pingback: play is salt and games are sugar « ~ the PleXity 'scraplog'                                               by Arthur Battram

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