Nomadic Thoughts on Challenge and Play

This is an experiment in what French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari call nomadic thought. Connecting disparate ideas with an emphasis on just having ideas instead of having just ideas (Goddard). I’ve had the tendency to mull over concepts and ideas until they eventually were lost. I want to practice putting them out, sketches rather than paintings. “worry less about building and perfecting, and be more concerned with using, exploring, testing” (Rugnetta). It is about a video I made this year about my movement practice. There are many things still to work on, I try to practice always with a beginners mindset. What I tried to capture was the essence of my movement practice: Challenge and Play.

A successful training is one where I find one thing that challenges me mentally or physically and complete it. To constantly look for challenge means to foster a growth mindset, an attitude that views challenges as opportunities to grow and not as an attack on the ego. If I fail at a challenge, I know I’m not capable yet. With time and dedicated practice I will be able to master it. It doesn’t not mean that I naturally am incapable, I just have not reached that level. Seeing the jump as a process and not a goal to itself.

Even more than the constant search for challenge, play has become a guiding concept for me. Play is a powerful meta tool, that should not be confused with bullshitting around. James P. Carse describes two types of games: finite and infinite games. A finite game is played to win, an infinite game is played to continue the play. His key thought is that we engage in play voluntary. Rules are temporary play. They serve to make a situation interesting or challenging, open up new horizons, only to be changed again if they constrain rather than open up. The infinite player recognizes the arbitrary nature of goals, achievement and rules. “Infinite players play with rules and boundaries. They include them as part of their playing. They aren’t taking them serious, and they can never be trapped by them, because they use rules and boundaries to play with.”

„Inserting play into your life is a required step for being present, alive, adaptive, strong, interested, creative,“ says Ido Portal. Reminding yourself that the rules of the game are chosen by yourself and only apply because you and other people agree on them is the key to keep play from being just another pair of chains.

Within the infinite play of Parkour I can play finite games. Lifting weights can be such a finite game. But they always occur within the grand framework of the infinite game. „You can do what you do seriously, because you must do it, because you must survive to the end, and you are afraid of dying and other consequences. Or, you can do everything you do playfully, always knowing you have a choice, having no need to survive the way you are, allowing every element of the play to transform you, taking pleasure in every surprise you meet.”

Infinite play transforms the player. It is a way to strip a away the veils we put in front of ourselves to mask the existential freedom we have, to make a choice at every moment. “To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence.” To be serious means to press for a certain outcome, but “to be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.” The infinite player might lose its identity during the game. This means to acknowledge the existential meaninglessness of the universe. People seek for reason and happiness, which they will find in finite games. As an infinite player I hear the silence of the world in response to that call. But this absurd is not a reason for despair. “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (Camus). Through realizing that every role is just that, every rule nothing more than a common agreement to behave a certain way, I recognize the existential freedom I have to choose. “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you” (Satre).

When we play Parkour as a finite game we lose our freedom to be transformed by it. We accept certain rules and are unaware of the role we play. We define a certain practice as the thing we do, we erect boundaries, we preach a certain history. As an infinite game we constantly seek to push the boundaries, not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of meaning, history and identity. It means, as the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari put it, to never put down roots but to make rhizomes. Be cautious of the truth. Seek new connections and don’t set a definition of the practice in stone. It is this flux that is of interest, as it constitutes the in-between, those territorialities that are as of yet unimagined. With this fluidity we can also avoid the co-option of the practice. In order to capitalize Parkour, it needs to be turned into a finite game. Infinite players never produce objects, the only produce possibility. „Artists do not create objects, but create by way of objects“ (Rank).

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