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«Integral Play AN EXPLORATION OF THE PLAYGROUND AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE PLAYER Gwen Gordon and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens In an effort to understand the ...»

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Developmental stages are defined by the worldview each inhabits. We can begin to understand the worlds and worldviews associated with specific play modes by revisiting Sutton-Smith’s rhetorics. To understand this logic, we start with the developmental scheme provided by the Integral model. The model is comprised of at least eight basic levels, which, for our purposes, we will associate with what we are calling the Play Selves. Each play self expresses itself in distinct ways and can be described in terms of the center and boundary of its identity. Beginning at an egocentric level, a play self develops through ethnocentric, worldcentric, Kosmocentric, and pneumacentric modes.37 While there is a developmental relationship between each of the worldviews, albeit one that involves a complex holarchical envelopment, it is not a simple, progressive, linear, or hierarchical relationship. As the self moves through stages, the view from an earlier stage is typically negated. These complex issues will not be fully explored in this article.38 Toward our purpose of understanding the developmental impact of play, we will explain each level, illustrate its contours, and describe the play forms that relate to it.

The Eight Play Selves are based on Susanne Cook-Greuter’s and William Torbert’s full spectrum Action-Inquiry research on postautonomous ego development.39 Their research represents the most sophisticated and extensive full-spectrum (prepersonal, personal, postpersonal, and postpostpersonal) research available. It is worth noting that their levels closely coincide with the levels of Clare Graves’ research on values development, as well as Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics (SD) model of value systems.40 Each play self has a unique way of relating to itself, other playmates, and the playground. In brief:41 The impulsive self is a Magical Player who connects with the cosmos by balancing dichotomous forces such as good and evil. They have a strong concern for creating safety and satisfying basic needs. The Magical Player has a sense of unlimited power combined with superstitious and magical notions. Their play is often highly repetitive. They view other people primarily as a source of self-gratification and feel confused and anxious by the complexity of the world.

The self-protective self is an Aggressive Player who is self-serving. Their play often takes the form of heroic acts. They identify the self in terms of its will, ideas, and wishes. Selfpreservation is central. They project all their feelings and rarely self-reflect. They think globally with many judgments and simple ideas. They see other people as competitors for space, goods, and dominance and have little capacity for insight into self and others. They often cross other’s boundaries in a crusade of low trust and hyper-vigilance. They experience the world as a dangerous place filled with perilous risk.

The conformist self is an Ordered Player who is rule-oriented and concerned with group membership. They define themselves through others. They have no stable and clear boundaries between the self and the group. Projection and introjection are their common defenses. They suppress negative feelings and overemphasize positive ones. They have a strong need to be accepted and to reject those who do not conform to the group. They view their world through a concrete-literal lens.

The conscientious self is a Status Player who is defined by their orientation toward linear causality, objective (third-person) thinking, and a newly emerging separate self-identity, which lends itself to competition for status. The self has greater independence and confidence. They Integral Play Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 3 have an interest in their emotional life, though rationality is emphasized. They associate with others with similar goals and desires in life. They are drawn to achievement and accomplishing goals by being concise, efficient, and effective. They have a genuine interest in others, independent of their own needs and values. The world is experienced as predictable and measurable.

The individualistic self is a Sensitive Player who emphasizes connectivity between people, especially by sharing experiences, acknowledging contextual aspects of play (e.g., gender, class, race), and systemic dynamics of reality. They are aware of the observer and multiple viewpoints.

They abandon objectivity and logic in favor of more holistic and organismic approaches. They value feelings and express them. They are aware of the conditioning dynamics of culture and context. They have the capacity to empathize with others and take their perspective. They understand their world is filled with diverse perspectives and competing truth claims.

The autonomous self is a Complex Player who welcomes chaos and multiple variables in service of self-development. The Complex Player understands the self as embedded in many contexts and dimensions. They accept many aspects of self through a complex psychology that integrates shadow material. They tolerate others in spite of their negative traits and differences of opinions or values. They experience their world as multidimensional with overlapping contexts and systems.

The construct-aware self is a Dynamic Player who integrates multimodal and multidimensional elements across contexts in service of humanity. They are aware of the subtle ways the ego filters experience. The Dynamic Player recognizes paradox and the limits of “mapping.” They desire to work through their own limits and blind spots and increase their capacity to witness themselves in the moment. They understand others in developmental terms and encounter them without judgment. They have a profound understanding of other’s complex and dynamic personalities. They experience the world as a place full of potential and paradox.

The ego-aware self is a Unitive Player who is a transparent manifestation of Being, completely spontaneous and open. They have stable access to transpersonal realities such as the capacity to witness all experience and keep their boundaries open. They view others as manifestations of Being. They experience the world as an immanent expression of timeless Spirit (see figure 6 below).

Integral Play Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 3 Figure 6. The Eight Play Selves Integral Play Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 3 Each play self becomes capable of and attracted to qualitatively different types of play. Its worldview has a language of its own and defines what is and is not play differently. For example, an Ordered Player enjoys playing when the rules are clear and people follow them, whereas a Sensitive Player finds more value in play that connects people regardless of whether the rules are defined or obeyed.

It is important to recognize that each play form does not strictly correlate with a particular worldview but can be played from within a wide range of perspectives. The Dalai Lama might enjoy a game of poker as much as Mike Tyson but from within a different worldview. That said, generally speaking, each developmental stage really only deeply enjoys the forms of play that match their own and prior stages of development. In other words, each developmental stage transcends and includes the play forms of the prior ones. Playing games that emerge out of stages far more developed than our own simply has no appeal. We often cannot imagine why anybody would enjoy them. A Status Player is as interested in play that helps liberate all beings as a Magical Player is in playing the stock market.

The levels of development also reflect different centers of concern and identity. Each establishes the locus of complexity in the generation of motivation, intention, and scope of engagement (i.e., with whom, for what, and why we are playing). In egocentric play, which includes the Magical and Aggressive Player, the player considers the other an object and plays only for the benefit of him/herself. In ethnocentric play, which includes Ordered Play, the player plays to be part of the group and to strengthen the bonds of community. In the next stage, sociocentric play, which includes Status Play, the player plays to win, whether for him/herself or for a larger affiliation such as one’s company or country. In worldcentric play, which includes the Sensitive and Complex Players, play occurs in service, whether directly or indirectly to humanity and the inclusion of the diversity of play members. In Kosmocentric play, which includes the Dynamic Players, people play to transform themselves in service of self, other, and world. In pneumacentric play, Unitive Players play with and for the purpose of liberating all beings.

As figure 6 illustrates, specific play forms tend to reinforce, reflect, and support specific worldviews. Ordered Players are at the concrete operational stage of cognition and therefore enjoy board games because they appreciate that all players are held accountable to the same rules. Status Players, at the formal operations level of cognition, prefer more individualistic or


play like rock climbing or entrepreneurial business ventures. They like play that allows them to express, assert, and be rewarded for their individuality.

Since anybody can engage in the same activity but for very different reasons and from very different perspectives, it is not uncommon for players in the same game to represent a broad range of developmental levels. As a result, they may have different needs, goals, and views of their mutual play. If a Status Player and a Sensitive Player are both playing a game of lawn darts, the former will probably be striving to win while the latter will probably be seeking connection.

This might work as long as the Status Player wins, but even so, the difference in worldviews can lead to conflicts or misunderstandings, should the Status Player lose too often or the Sensitive Player’s need for connection remain unsatisfied.

The quality, subtlety, and nature of the same play form may also change when engaged from different developmental stages. For example, from the perspective of the Aggressive Player, sexual play is an act of domination and control. For the Sensitive Player, it is an act of intimacy.

For the Unitive Player, it is an act of communion with the divine. As development increases,

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As we see in the diagram, Piaget’s stages of play help describe the cognitive development of the first four play selves with Magical and Aggressive Play correlating with the preoperational stage, Ordered Play with the concrete operational stage, and Status Play with the formal operational stage. These first four stages make it possible to describe and understand approximately 85% of the human population, which exists within prepersonal and personal modes of being.43 However, that leaves out the 15% who are manifesting postpersonal and transpersonal forms and perspectives of play. These play forms and perspectives are at the leading edge of our evolutionary potential and must be included in any full topography of play, which is why CookGreuter’s developmental research is so helpful to an Integral approach to play.

Sutton-Smith’s work comes closer than any other play theorist’s in recognizing the full spectrum of play, though he limits his interpretation to include only the ancient (prepersonal) and modern (personal) stages of development. What is striking to us about this cartography is that it correlates very strongly with an understanding of ego development in individuals and worldview development in cultures and communities.

Yet Sutton-Smith appears to be unaware that his framework provides suggestive evidence for the evolutionary unfolding of play perspectives. So, while a strict interpretation through a developmental lens of Sutton-Smith’s would not be justified, given that he is using his categories in a much looser sense, his work does bring us closer to understanding the relationship between individual and collective development in the context of play forms and theories. A developmental perspective not only shows a vertical relationship between these worldviews but also reveals the logic that connects them. We expand the interpretation of some of the rhetorics to reflect their presence in postpersonal and transpersonal stages of development and their correlations with the play selves (see figure 7 below).

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The rhetoric of play as fate, power, and some aspects of play as identity and frivolity all fit within the prepersonal worldview. Play as identity can be as true for a mythic culture centered Integral Play Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 3 around festivals and rituals as it is in a highly bureaucratic culture centered around loyalty to the firm and its membership in the country club, regular golfing, and barbeque parties, etc. Play as frivolity is really the play of the outsider, children, crazy people, the elderly, or marginalized racial groups at any developmental stage. The rhetoric of play as self and play as progress as well as aspects of play as identity primarily express the personal worldview, while some aspects of the play of imagination and again frivolity express postpersonal worldviews. In a postpersonal expression of play as imagination, the identity is expanded through the imagination. We imagine playing with creatures very different from ourselves, whether they are children of future generations or non-human species.44 The play of Self (capital “S”), to expand Sutton-Smith’s original category, is another postpersonal worldview that deliberately expands the sense of identity and includes meditation, breathwork, inquiry, or psychotropic drug use, to name a few.

Aspects of Sutton-Smith’s rhetoric of frivolity reaches transpersonal dimensions in its ability to play with any rules of the game, including those of rational discourse or even, ultimately, physics. The remarkable correlations between the play rhetorics and the play selves serve to highlight that Sutton-Smith’s work has an implicit developmental dimension.

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