If you could choose a new Latin name for our species, what would it be?
Our name is Homo Sapiens – which means the “thinking man,” or the “rational man.” Our species name says rationality is the thing that makes us unique.
Now, there have been alternate suggestions – Homo Economicus, Homo Faber, Homo Emoticus.
But I think my favorite is Homo Ludens – or “the playing man.” I prefer to think of ourselves in terms of ends, not means. That is, our ability to reason is a means to accomplish things, it is not an end in itself – it’s how we do exist, but not the reason why we want to exist. (OK – You could poke a hole or two in that last statement, and Socrates certainly would. But I’m going to take it as a given – humor me for the length of this post.)
I’d argue that it might be better if we defined ourselves as Homo X, where X gets at why we choose to do what we do.
It might seem silly to say that Play would be that X. But the more I think about it, those moments that I recall fondly, those times where I feel connected to other people and to the world – those moments are moments of play. I don’t necessarily mean all those moments are literally times when I am playing a game – I would include moments of joking, silliness, amusement, or accomplishment of something simultaneously hard and fun.
Good play experiences are precisely those that feel rewarding. Defining things strictly, the reason why we choose to do the things we do must be inextricably linked to reward seeking. “Linked” may be too mild a word; “co-identical” is better.
You can argue that play makes us better people. And I believe that strongly – good play experiences make good people. They make kids into good adults and make adults better adults. But I am toying with the idea of going farther – that play is the point. That it’s an end, not just a means.