Joannes Ludovicus Vives was a Spanish humanist whose work made significant contributions to several fields including psychology and education (and who was born by the time the European explorers, arguably, reached for the first-time the American continent). Among other better and more influential works, he wrote Dialogues, a book that is organized in (yes, you guessed it: dialogues) that touch a myriad of subjects many of them from the daily life of young student boys at the time: school, family life, the food back then and how it was eaten, he even described drunkenness or “Ebrietas”. He also, and of interest to this article, introduced there a set of principles that were meant to rule entertainment activities for students at the time in what he called “Leges Ludi” or Laws of Play. I stumbled on these guidelines almost by accident, and I was very surprised how much they have stayed relevant with the passage of time.
So, without further introduction below you will find my own “XXI Century” take on Luis Vive’s Laws of Play:
The Laws Of Play
- When to Play: After accepting that we are by nature not frivolous, we must first learn that our gaming should happen exclusively as a way for resting and renewal. Only with this understanding we will save our gaming time for those moments where a distraction is called for, and never for when otherwise one should be involved in more serious, constructive activities.
- With whom we Play: The partners we choose for playing must be those who are also looking for a positive, festive and entertaining, for hose we know will avoid confrontation and grieving, those that avoid foul language and share our same objectives and who can easily engage in healthy competition.
- What to Play: The game chosen should be well-understood by all players, the activity must be constructive to mind and body. It should not be one where mere luck has a disproportionately high importance in the outcome, it must be balanced and winning should require skill.
- Games should give something back: Only play something that has some difficulty and avoid anything trivial or with instant retribution. The stake should not be so big as to vex you or cause stress. It should be, after all, only a game.
- Why you Play: Before you start the game, be conscious you and fellow gamers came together for constructive entertainment and that no harm should come out of it. If you lose appreciate the experience, and if you win be respectful and appreciative of teammates and opponents.
- How long to Play: Only until you have achieved the objective of being entertained, distracted… when you’re finished having fun. Gaming should never monopolize your time, extend over to important activities or when it feels it is excessive or doing harm to yourself. Also consider the time of others in the game and around you.
One can imagine that things like gambling, alcohol and bulling were elements that made playing a problematic activity for young people. Frivolous and destructive games for sure existed and were popular, otherwise the problem of kids simply abusing the time invested was reason for concern. Fast-forward a few hundred years and it is obvious the challenges presented by addictive entertainment activities are not unique to our contemporary times, where things like gaming, video, chatting and social networks or sometimes even music and sports are abused by industry and consumers with destructive results.
Guidelines like these Laws of Play should be understood and applied by parents, so that kids are introduced to the different game types and content only when appropriate to their age, also making sure that kids get involved in diverse activities with time and duration boundaries, and with the right objectives.
Authorities (including Lawmakers and even Teachers) should understand both the potential benefits of gaming (technological or otherwise) as well as the risks of premature exposure to games and gaming subjects, as well as how entertainment can be naturally (or by design) addictive. The proper framework should be there to enable the creation of safe play spaces for kids of all ages.
Wrapping up, it is to kids themselves for whom these Laws of Play may be most useful, raising the level of consciousness of their own leisure time. With their understanding of simple principles like these they should be able to learn to intelligently manage their game activities and the amount of time they invest in them. There are numerous benefits of gaming in a safe playing environment, it doesn’t matter if they’re playing by themselves an electronic or puzzle game, enjoying sports, when playing a board game with a group of friends or family, in a competitive setting of or even online: let the fun begin.
Image: Children’s Games (Peter Bruegel, 1560)