Toyful Play

Locating Toyful Play

Questor and Arbiter finally move their discussion to toyful play.


Questor: Finally, what about toyful play? What is toyful play through the lens of value, values, and ethics?

Arbiter: I'm glad we're finally at this topic. To begin, let me ask you a question. What is value?

Q: Is it what you're willing to give in exchange for getting?

A: I think that some of the time that is the concept referred to by the word 'value'. I suppose that the value of play, in those terms, might be what you "expect" to get out of playing. But that isn't quite what I mean when I ask "What is value?" Rather, I'm asking - what are values? What do they do? Where do they come from?

Q: Oh I see. So, in the terms of my initial answer, one thing that values can do is help me assess whether I ought to give X to obtain Y? But there may be other functions of values?

A: That is more like what I'm asking yes. You actually pointed out one of the things that values do: they help you to discriminate between choices - they help you to assess paths. But such assessment also involves imagination, prediction, simulation, and more generally - knowledge. You can only decide between two options to the extent that you are able to imagine the outcomes of taking each option.

Q: So much seems clear. But where does toyful play come in?

A: Consider the following scenario. Suppose you are visiting a cabin in the woods. You are told that the cabin is within a mile of a stream, but you know nothing else about the stream. What do you do if you want to know whether the stream is good for fishing or swimming or boating or diving?

Q: I guess I go to the stream and see how deep it is, how rapidly it flows, how clear it is, and so on.

A: Good! But what if you don't even know where the stream is? All you have been told is that the stream is within a mile of the cabin.

Q: I guess I wander around in the woods until I hear or see the stream.

A: Quite so. Now, what would you do if you had not even been told there is a stream?

Q: I'm not sure I understand your question.

A: What would you do if you visited a cabin in the woods and knew nothing about the surrounding area? You don't know, for example, whether there is or is not a stream nearby. You are to spend a week's vacation there, would you still explore the woods?

Q: I bet I would... maybe I would. I'm not sure. I think I would explore, perhaps after a good night's rest.

A: Good. So this example has something to tell us about toyful play. If you do not explore the woods, why don't you? You mentioned that you might do so after you had a good night's rest. Lets assume further that you brought all the food that you need - hunting or gathering is not something that is necessary for your surviving the week. With these assumptions it is safe to say that you will wander the woods when you are at liberty to do so and when you have nothing else pressing to do - you're not hungry or injured or tired.

Q: That seems reasonable. I think I am starting to follow your analogy. You're saying that I will play toyfully only when I'm free to do so - when there is nothing pressuring me too strongly to make "wandering around in the woods" feel imprudent.

A: That is more or less correct.

Q: But what of value, values, or ethics? I still don't see how those come in.

A: Ah, now let me ask: Why did you go into the woods? Simply not being prevented from doing so is not the reason you did it. What is that reason? Or if you prefer less psychological terms, what caused you to go?

Q: Oh I dunno. I guess... I guess it would be something like I wanted to know if there was anything interesting about the woods. Whether there is a good stream for swimming in, whether there are any awe inspiring trees, or anything like that, perhaps something I cannot even imagine right now.

A: Exactly right. You play with something in a toyful way when you are free to do so and when you suspect, but are not sure, that something valuable might surprise you while playing. It can be based on stronger or weaker suspicions - something catches your attention, but you're not sure what. A strong suspicion is like the case where you know about the stream in the woods but don't know anything about it. That kind of toyful play is usually called "exploration" or "experiment".

Another form of toyful play is like the case where you are walk the woods simply because you feel you can - maybe nothing will come of it.

The effect, then, of toyful play with respect to ethics is that it may not have an effect. It happens as an expression of a basic tendency to expand and grow - specifically - to expand and grow values.

But something is a little off about this metaphor...