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Which Forms of Play Are Acceptable For Adults?

This post is not a scientific study of which forms of play are truly acceptable for adults. First of all, I don’t have the resources to conduct a real study. But more importantly, why bother? I don’t say that to be flippant (well, not totally, anyway) but to seriously pose the question: Why bother to characterize what adults should or should not be playing? Who determines what’s appropriate? Is the fun police out there somewhere waiting to bust you if you dare to swing on the playground swings? Of course not.

Yet we adults seem to believe this to be the case. We fear certain types of play. We worry that others will judge us to be weird, crazy, or somehow mentally impaired if we’re seen engaging in some forms of play. And it’s true that you might be. There is a group of people who make it their business to shame anyone who dares to be different. (They’re probably like this because they don’t get enough play. They certainly have zero sense of humor.) But here’s the thing: It’s not their business. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, trampling small children in your play efforts, or using public tax money to fund your play time, who cares what you do?

Part of bringing more play into your life is getting past this notion of acceptable vs. unacceptable. Play is play and if you enjoy it, you should pursue it. However, if you’re still super worried about exactly what you can “get away with” as an adult, the chart below is a helpful guide.

Play Chart

Here’s some more information about the chart:

Acceptable Forms of Adult Play

  • Sports/Outdoor Activities: You can get away with a lot under the guise of sports and outdoor activities. Even “childish” things like roller skating, tag, and dodge ball can be gotten away with as long as you do them for fitness or competition. Of course the major sports are completely acceptable, as are things that air on ESPN but which aren’t “real” sports, like poker. Even running amok on a playground has been rendered somewhat acceptable, as long as you call it “Parkour.”
  • Artistic Hobbies: Anything with an artistic bent is acceptable. Music, photography, painting/drawing, crafts, scrapbooking, model building (this includes Lego, as long as you’re building from a pre-approved kit; if you’re building free-form sculptures, you’re flirting with “toy” territory discussed below), and even coloring, are acceptable. If your play produces a useful or educational end result it is also acceptable, as in forms of needlework, book clubs, journaling, star gazing, cooking, car restoration, and jewelry making.
  • Computer Games: Console and computer games are completely acceptable, as long as you’re not playing them to the exclusion of your adult responsibilities like earning money and caring for your family. If you cross into this territory, you’re fodder for Dr. Phil.
  • Playing With Kids/Pets: Kids and pets make fabulous beards for play. You can get away with practically anything as long as you’re seen doing it with a kid or pet in tow. They’re supposed to play; you’re not. You’re just “helping” them. That’s it.
  • Games/Puzzles: Board games, role playing games, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles and the like are acceptable, although board games and RPG’s are seen by many to flirt with “toy” territory. If you need reassurance that your board game habit is a legit adult activity, visit BoardgameGeek.com to find a community of like-minded gamers and see just how adult oriented the hobby is.
  • Collecting: You can collect practically anything and it’s okay as long as you’re not seen actually playing with it. You can collect Star Wars action figures, Hot Wheels, Funko Pop, and Barbie Dolls and it’s considered hip or artistic. Just make sure that your door is firmly closed and locked before you load up the Millennium Falcon and stage an epic battle between your Star Wars and GI Joe figures. Wouldn’t want anyone to actually think you play with this stuff, now would you?

Unacceptable Forms of Adult Play

  • Pretending: As an adult, you are no longer allowed to stage those epic space battles mentioned above. Neither are you allowed to imagine that the odd tree formation in your front yard is a fort, host tea parties, play dress up (unless you are in the fashion industry, then you can get away with all sorts of weirdness), or pretend that you are a pirate, princess, fairy, or cowboy. The exception to this is if you are a writer: Writers get to pretend play many different things under the guise of research.
  • Playgrounds: Unless you’re engaged in “Parkour,” which is acceptable for adults, playing on a playground is unacceptable. You are not allowed to use the swings or slides, and you cannot hang from the monkey bars. And forget using the spinning carousel thing. Absolutely off limits. You are only allowed to walk the paths or sit on a bench and read. You must be careful, however, because an adult who does not have children at a playground is scary and suspicious. Avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • Toys/Dolls/Stuffed Animals: You are no longer permitted to sit on the floor and play with anything found on the toy aisle unless it is Lego, a board game, or a puzzle. Action figures, dolls, Play-Doh, stuffed animals, doll houses, and all other toys must be retired, unless you are collecting or crafting them, in which case it’s okay. (See above.)
  • Reading Children’s Books: You may not go into the library and check out anything below YA reading level. YA is hip and ironic; re-reading your favorite storybooks is unacceptable. If you have a kid, you can get away with this because you have to read to them. Otherwise, the only excuse is if you are a writer or illustrator of children’s books and you must read them for “research.”
  • Anything Outside the Norm: Basically, anything that will get you stared at is unacceptable. Want to spontaneously run through a sprinkler or play in the rain? Forget it. Want to climb a tree or build a tree fort for your own use? Crazy land. Whatever you do, make sure it fits within societal norms, otherwise you’re not allowed to do it.

Obviously the above was tongue in cheek. But the funny thing is that all of these things that are labeled as “unacceptable” are often considered “acceptable” if performed under the socially approved conditions of collecting, adult recreation, or research. So just go out and engage in whatever forms of play make you happy. If someone corners you and accuses you of being crazy or weird (and you feel like you must address it instead of letting it go), just say that you’re doing it for research, or to test out suitability for your own kid. Who’s to know? I certainly won’t tell.

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