These days it seems like all parents do is drive kids from place to place. When I was a kid, playing was free and right outside my front door. We made up games and shared with the neighbors and made friends. Sometimes we were out of the sight of a parent or paid teacher for minutes at a time. Now I fear that even playing has been commoditized.
Of course, I notice the same pattern in myself. My parents could play dozens of games with a single deck of cards yet I purchase expensive board games or computer games. These games require training for our friends so that a whole evening could be spent just learning the game, looking forward to a future time to play instead of being able to play right away.
My parents and their friends and neighbors knew a bunch of card games and the games were uncomplicated so that they were easy to teach. They could invite anyone from the neighborhood over for a game of pinochle or rummy and play well into the night, with people of all ages. I learned card games when I was 4 and played them against my great-grandmother; those memories are always with me.
And maybe those memories are why I find playing to be so important. I find that I really meet people when I play games with them. Whether it is a complicated game like Settlers of Catan (Cities and Knights expansion) with my friends or a simple game like Sorry with the kids, the structured interaction gives time for watching how people think. Do they strategize and plot? Are they intuitive and adept? Do they cry when sent back to Home just before reaching the Safety Zone?
At the end of a good game, you know not just a person but also their character. I fear this socializing is lost in structured classes dedicated to skill, not play.
And after all, toil and labor were the result of Original Sin, so I assume that means that Paradise was full of play before then. And if Heaven is a big wedding party, then they must be playing a holy version of the chicken dance whereas the eternal Macarena is condemned to the lowest circles of the Inferno.
And, in my experience, children always spend the longest time on the dance floor, inventing and meeting new family members, and playing imagined games.