Camp’s Magic Circle
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about play and what it is. I’ve been taking a class on play theory (one of many reasons my writing of this blog has lagged so heavily) in which we have been looking at different definitions of play that people have had throughout the years and the implications of each one. Wayfinder is the reason I signed up for the course. Seeing as we talk about and engage in play so much within our community, I wanted to get an idea of what the broader view on the topic was. As we’ve progressed I’ve also been looking at my own beliefs as to what play is, what role it holds in this community, and what play has done for me. I’ll probably write more of the personal responses to play as time passes but for right now I want to look at some of the ways play applies to camp at large.
One thing that play requires, as defined by the theorists, is a set of parameters which play exists within. Of the different terms used to describe this, I think the best I’ve encountered is the “Magic Circle.” The Magic Circle is essentially a space that we agree to enter that, once inside, everything can be understood to be play. This is a broader concept than the most active and named construction of space that we have at camp, we call it the “Play Space.” While a “Play Space” generally comes with a set of physical boundaries and a time limit (they usually exist for the duration of specific workshops), camp is a collection of different Magic Circles, the most obvious being everything that happens within the Adventure Game, which literally starts with a circle. From the very minute you show up to camp though, you are stepping into a much larger magic circle. Play is a way we all get to interact, to learn about each other and ourselves, to remind ourselves that we have stepped out of the world at large and into some place we can let down some of our boundaries, a place we can really trust each other in. That space only exists because of the play we have done to create it.
The very first thing that you do when you show up to camp is play. Literally the first workshop on any camp schedule (and every morning at day camp) is called opening play. So from the very second we all arrive into that space we step into that kind of circle, a place where we know that we are safe to play. Important to this is that there is an ability to opt out of the games that we play (very important to the idea of play is that it’s voluntary). Even with the Adventure Game we have an “out of game space” where you can go should things be too intense and you need to step away. Even within the games themselves there are chances for people to have different levels of intensity. We have systems that allow for people to say when something has become too much for them, when it has become unsafe, and we talk a lot about playing to our partner’s level, making sure that we are calling people into a kind of play they are comfortable engaging in. None of this should be viewed as taking away from anyone’s experience. Our magic circle, the one we build that holds camp inside of it, has space inside of it for you to play (or not) at your own level of comfort. Having that kind of space, which allows for a variety of needs, is integral to building the community that we have.
Through the space for people to play or not play in specific games as they need, we show our community at large that this space is a safe one for them to engage with when they’re ready. While, by the nature and needs of supervision, you aren’t given free reign over the physical spaces you may always occupy, you are allowed to set your level of engagement. The same can be said of the community. Our community provides a lot of opportunities for personal engagement. There are regular trust workshops, morning circles, and story circles which allow for different kinds of semi-guided sharing. When these come up, the kind of play that we’ve been doing (and specifically the idea of playing to your partner’s level) allows for community members to decide on any level of participation they may feel comfortable with. When you see everything we do at camp as included in this magic circle, the same rules that dictate play dictate every interaction. Relationships built at camp are built around play. Conversations between us then, by nature, have some of these play elements woven into them. There is no place at camp where you can look without seeing that play is alive and well.
There’s a lot more that I could (and hope to) say about play at camp, in the world, and in my life. For now let me close by saying that as I’ve been learning more about how the scientific community views play, (they’re pretty shaky on why it exists but they’ve distilled some things it’s capable of and some good guidelines as to when something should be defined as play) one thing has been very clear to me. Play is alive and well at camp. We play everyday, we play hard, and we have a strong idea as to the importance of play within our community. Thanks for playing with me.
Written by Judson Easton Packard