Play away!

It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice here, that when our exhibitions feature things to do that include some kind of playful activity, whether that’s drawing and making, or digital gaming fun, it’s not only the kids that get stuck in. There’s joy in the building when groups of adults gather to make stuff, share a few laughs, or get absorbed in digital worlds, sometimes spending most of the day with us. We’ve seen strangers meet and work together, bonding over their creations and sharing resources, or in our digital and gaming offerings; swapping tips and helping with troubleshooting another’s gaming issues, and we love to see it.

The human need for play is hardwired into our neurology from birth and throughout our lives. Living without play opportunities is detrimental to our health and development. Check out the (American) National Institute for Play for an overview of the scientific disciplines of neuroscience, behavioural science, and ethological research looking at this subject.

Their founder Dr Stuart Brown is evangelical about the need for us all to have access to playful pursuits, “I envision a future in which the import of good play practices is as much a social imperative as good sleep and good nutrition practices.”

This summer in honour of the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham, we’re doing our very best to give everyone we can, the opportunity to play. The gallery exhibition Joy Sticks incorporates the fun of movement via some tech wizardry. We have, what one visitor has dubbed, ’disco ping pong’, where visitors can play table tennis on a uniquely programmed, LED enhanced table by Robin Price. The table surface bursts into an audio visual extravaganza each time the ball bounces on it. Visitors are encouraged to just have a go and we have no expectations of anyone showing any proficiency or prowess with the game, so there’s been an enjoyable lack of competitiveness so far, unlike our game for solo players, ‘Tie Your Laces’ by We Throw Switches, where a wall mounted screen will have you running around the gallery to score points. Regular visitors for this game drop by the gallery several times a week to see if they can increase their score or maintain their high ranking on the gallery leaderboard. The game’s fast becoming a community resource.

Our observations on the natural playfulness of people when given the chance, reinforce a suspicion that every high street should have opportunities for play. It may be of more benefit to our wellbeing than shopping.

Don’t leave playtime behind with your childhood, we all need it. Now more than ever.