If you have not seen it, go see it as soon as you’ve finished this.
On the video, you see the photo of polar bear approaching a Siberian Husky in Manitoba, Canada. The 1200-pound bear’s predatory stare makes it clear: the husky is lunch. Then you notice the Husky’s body language, which tells you that he sees a different opportunity. The dog is bowing with his tail wagging. It’s sending a message that every dog owner recognizes: let’s play!
The bear rises up with its claws retracted and opens itself to the Husky. The two then come together and begin an unforgettable ballet. They nuzzle and wrestle like mother and puppy; they play. In one particularly endearing photo, you see in the barely open eyes of the bear its bliss. That look reminds you of the purpose and result of our own play: delight.
Dr. Stuart Brown, who presented these photos at the May 2008 Art Center Design Conference in Pasadena, California, is among the researchers who have concluded that animals, including us, are programmed to play. We need play to develop normally. Play-deprived adults often develop antisocial personalities, and play-deprived rats die.
Puppies and dogs, bears and cubs, babies and adults–play is basic to us.
Years ago this discovery led a historian named Johan Huizinga to offer that we should not be called homo sapiens, literally “wise men,” after all. We should be called homo ludens: Man the player.
Our enterprises regularly overlook this. They treat us like their vision of polar bears: serious, acquisitive, predatory. But in the days that follow, I will try to demonstrate the power of our drive for play, and how smart marketers have tapped into it. (And you should, too.)
What do I love? Just what you love: Play.