After Federica Pallavicini’s father was treated for brain cancer, she wanted to help him with his recovery from the surgery. As reported by the daily world “I began to look into ways of improving his cognitive health without it being a burden or reminder of his situation,” she says. Inspiration came from an unusual source – video games.
Pallavicini has a personal connection with gaming. As a psychologist who studies the applications of virtual reality and video games for mental health and psychological wellbeing at the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, she noticed the improvement on her own mental health and lower stress levels after she played Call of Duty (CoD) and other games at F95zone. The first-person shooting game put players into a simulated war, and so is more commonly associated with violence and stress than as a way of improving mental health. Pallavicini, however, says playing became a form of therapy that was highly beneficial in her day-to-day life, and later inspired her career in research. With this in mind, she wondered if play could help her father, too.
Pallavicini had good reason to believe it could. Adults who demonstrate more playful personality traits are more motivated, creative, and spontaneous. There have even been links between people with more playful characteristics having lower blood pressure. While less playful people struggle in their leisure time to relax and often feel bored when their minds are not preoccupied, those that are more playfully inclined are aware of new opportunities and open to trying a wider variety of activities.
So, why do most of us stop playing as adults? And how can we learn to play again?
René Proyer, professor of psychology at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, says that playful adults are those able to frame everyday situations in such a way that they become entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Whether it’s an obsession with Candy Crush on the morning commute, playing video games with friends or even sharing a private joke with your partner or colleague, most people are playful, and yet the benefits might go unnoticed or nurtured.
The benefits of playfulness can be embraced again in adulthood, says Proyer, adding that in the same way that you might take part in meditation or exercise, playfulness should be viewed as a skill that can be developed, harnessed, and used for mindfulness.