One of humanity’s greatest joys is ever in flux.
How are today’s Values reflected in the ways people play?
.Play isn’t Peripheral,.
Play is one of the true pleasures of life. As children, we do it naturally without guilt or fear, but as we grow older we lose touch with our inherent playfulness as the realities of life start to bite.
Play is a deep human need, however. Humanity has always played, and will continue to, albeit in new ways and using new tools. In the backdrop of post pandemic 2023, many are rediscovering what emotions and activities bring pleasure and meaning to life, and how Play can continue to be fulfilling.
But why 'Play'? Well, Play isn't just about fun. It keeps us happy by stimulating the release of endorphins, aids in healthy cognitive and emotional development in children, and can relieve feelings of anxiety and spark deep connections between people. Our wellbeing is intimately tied to Play.
While this has always been the case, the ways we play are changing as the tools and technology to do it evolves and our social fabric shifts. Achieving the wellbeing that’s made possible by Play looks different than it used to, so come with us on a journey to discover how it feels today.
.If Play is changing, so are we.
In this edition of Human Futures, we delve into how Play is being lived across the USA.
Principles of Play today
What personal Values it helps us to live
And ultimately seek to create insights that brands can learn from and incorporate into their marketing and product development.
Given the importance of Play, a deep understanding of it today can help our audiences live more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
.Play today is
.(and no, it hasn’t always been).
Our research with young Millennials and Gen Z revealed a recent increased focus on Play to feel good. This might sound obvious, but activities we associate with Play (video gaming, sports, board games, kids toys) can bring up a range of emotions.
Many remember Play (or what they thought was Play) producing anxiety and disappointment, and are now looking for new forms that fit current emotional needs in this intense and anxiety inducing world we live in.
.Today’s emerging modes of Play are ways of effecting positive change for yourself.
Each are reactions to the world around us; the pressure and difficulty of succeeding, and the need to feel emotionally well in this context.
“I love the playfulness of video games because I get to do it with people I love and that’s really fun. It’s something we share. There’s also usually a competitive aspect about it. But it’s competitive with low stakes. I guess that's the good kind of competition.” Amanda
Comes from a positive place of wanting to challenge yourself on your own terms to experience growth.
Comes from a place of needing to escape and enter a more peaceful emotional place that’s disconnected from the outside world.
Comes from a place of wanting to primarily experience connection with others in a lighthearted way.
To learn more about our Values methodology, check out this link.
.Our Values Methodology.
We all play for different reasons at different times, but what Values combinations reveal is the subtle shifts occurring in what we might expect as the reason and meaning of Play.
We’re using play to reach our unique potential, connect with others, and feel good against the backdrop of stressful, competition fuelled lives
Competitive and pressurized play of the past which tapped into achievement and power.
Gaming immersion, not just competition
Social ecosystems surrounding video games have grown more niche and specific, enabling more genuine social connections. Many gamers today are looking for their special communities on Discord, and engaging with indie games they feel are associated with their unique identities as a means to find their people.
Playing to manifest aspirations
Creative Play is being used as a way to tap into your aspirational side. Making TikToks that present a new facet of your identity, a fashion trend you’re playing with, or teaching kids to play games that involve goal setting are ways of trying on a version of yourself.
Less toys, more imagination and world building
Parents have started to realize that a lot of playful kid’s content is stimulating but ultimately leaves kids drained and anxious. Giving their kids less ‘stuff’ (especially technology) and less structured Play requires them to use their imaginations which helps them discover their unique strengths and personalities. Getting kids off of screens is a real challenge, so ensuring they know how to entertain themselves when there isn’t one is a growing priority.
Now people are challenging themselves on their own terms and for their own rewards, engaging in less competitive play and being more mindful of the personal ‘why’ behind playful moments.
Achievement in Play today comes from a feeling of expressing yourself and discovering your own potential rather than reaching someone else’s standards or winning at the rules of someone else’s game.
In a world where competition is so common (down to the the number of followers you have) tapping into personal goals and what’s uniquely important to you is a growing priority
Kids 6-17 playing organized sports dropped from 57% to around 50% between pre pandemic and today, largely due to increased cost and hyper competitiveness.*
“AAA games often have larger communities that are kind of overwhelming, so I prefer indie games. I’ve made lifelong friendships that are really special because they’re based on this tiny game we’ve played.” Phoenix
“I’m making model cars with my son, and one of them is my dream car. It’s a way to teach him small ways of visualizing and achieving your dreams.” Luis
.Achievement + Self Direction.
.“Playing the game”.
.gets a new, personal edge.
Brands making space for deep play help people excel in their unique way
Nike’s “Play New” ad about embracing being bad at sports, rejecting the hardcore achievement angle of the past.
AirBnB’s travel campaigns showing the playful side of travel that's less about traditional luxury, and more about spontaneous experience and individual preferences.
.Security + Benevolence.
The overwhelming intensity of the world, daily obligations, constant distractions vying for our attention.
This type of Play is intended to feel stabilizing and grounding, because you know how it’ll make you feel. Without the ups and downs of more spontaneous or arousing Play, it’s a go-to for when you need to check out.
During the pandemic, 85% of gamers said gaming positively impacted their mental health over the past year*
Play has always been a way to treat yourself and escape the everyday, but it’s increasingly being used as a form of self care. We are recognizing that you don’t need to ‘earn’ the right to play as an adult, and it’s a way to change our emotional state from negative to positive.
Playing to switch off and show yourself some care. It’s an intentional way to distract yourself from other parts of life.
.Play to win? Try play to feel good!.
Proving our parents wrong, that gaming is good for you!
To those who love it, video gaming has always had a positive emotional effect. But the audience that recognizes the potential for gaming to calm their anxiety and be a form of self-care has widened. People of all ages are reaching for a controller when they need to chill out at the end of a hard day.
VR to transport you emotionally
The benefits of VR gaming for impacting emotional wellbeing is still an area of discovery, but it's clear that for those who own a VR device, it’s an easy way to fully immerse in another world. While it’s less social, it's recognized as a quick way to change your frame of mind and feel both a physical and emotional escape.
Play to let loose, in a safer way
Many Gen Z and younger millennials recognize that socializing in earlier life stages was riskier and unhealthy by today’s standards. Partying and playing drinking games, seeking a feeling of being out of control and ‘letting loose’ is stuff of the past for many, who are reaching to forms of play that feel both healthier and therefor more fun. Playing social phone games, escape rooms, or making TikToks together create a safe way to enjoy play.
“A small amount of escaping can be good. For example I live in a basement apartment and it has very little sunlight. I sometimes use my VR gaming headset to just escape my environment, and it’s a little relief from seasonal depression sometimes.” Amanda
Meta Oculus and other VR headsets aren’t just used for escaping into fantasy worlds, but also to create more peaceful sanctuaries.
Candy Crush and mindless tactile games give people an emotional boost without the taxing investment of something more strategic.
Brands enabling Safe Play are tapping into deeper needs than just ‘letting loose’
* Source: https://news.microsoft.com/source/features/work-life/mind-games-how-gaming-can-play-a-positive-role-in-mental-health/#:~:text=The%20study%20found%20that%2084,16%20months%20into%20the%20pandemic.
Benevolence + Hedonism
A feeling of loneliness, lacking close connections, and the stress of isolation.
Play that allows us to connect more deeply with others and experience pure fun without the high stakes.
Tapping into benevolence looks like Play that’s meant to feel good and express care and love to others. It’s kind in nature and meant to ultimately bring people closer together.
“Something that comes up in my friend group a lot is actually doing an activity. For example, escape rooms are something that's getting bigger, and other things that are interactive. We all have short attention spans and want to be doing things together that are actually fun.” Jael
Just like Play for self-care, hedonism is the fun loving kind of Play that you can only look forward to. There’s no twist to it, just enjoying time with people, and cutting out any other obligations.
Gaming to make friends
Online gaming forums are tangible examples of the community enabled through play. It’s a bustling social world with lively conversations around strategy, progress, and fan fiction that becomes playful even outside the game. Just look at sports like pickleball; another example of gaming where the friendly and welcoming community is a huge draw to the sport.
The rise of nostalgia
Nostalgia driven games (as well as movies ad TV) have seen a huge uptick in the past couple years. It makes sense, as reliving the games we used to love helps us feel more socially connected to others of the same generation. Escaping through nostalgic games is also a way to cope with stress, as it takes us out of the present moment to simpler times.
Play as performance
Millennials found toying with expression online to be daunting because of the paper trail it leaves behind. But Gen Z has grown up in a world where trends change instantly, and it’s okay to switch things up and experiment with how you virtually present yourself. Whether it’s showing your ‘hot girl walk’ , your outfit, or lip syncing to a song, online performance can invite interaction, not just competition.
“During the week my husband and I are taking care of the kids, running around, and life is just full of obligations. So we will play a game once the kids have gone to bed, and it’s a really nice way to be present with each other. We get a little competitive and that’s part of connecting too. It’s the only time there’s no pressure. It’s just for us.” Susan
During covid, the value of retro video games increased 33%*
Brands helping to build connection
Apple Arcade Games - family night is increasingly going digital, with social phone games that help discover a part of yourself and learn about those close to you rather than getting competitive.
Jackbox Games - Social games like drawful and quiplash initiate conversation through creativity and improv, stimulating self-expression through funny shared moments.
Escape rooms are also a way to escape the mundanity of just ‘hanging out’ and actually form bonds through teamwork.
.Playing it right
with your audience.
We believe brands can play a powerful role in enabling Play of the future, and with it create opportunities for Play to be more deeply impactful for audiences. Doing so can solve emotional hurdles, help people feel more connected to others, and create their own experience of growth.
Our research surfaces three potential opportunity areas that brands can look at to help their audiences really live Play. Perhaps one of these is relevant for your brand to ‘play’ with…
Deep Play –There is a real desire for people to express themselves through play through a hit of achievement that’s uniquely defined (not necessarily competitive), and takes them deeper in discovering their potential
Safe Play – In a pressurized world there is a need for personal moments of easy Play that deliver a safe escape, acting as much needed self care
Connected Play – There is a real desire from people to connect (most powerfully IRL) with others for a fun hit of togetherness, and it's stemming from uncomplicated experiences of joy
Let’s not forget about Play – it may seem peripheral but it’s a really important human element that we all need in our lives.
.Feel free to send us an email to.get in touch & find out more!
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