We have spent a lot of time reading the work of the founder of the National Institute for Play in the US, Stuart Brown MD and especially his book Play. In the book Stuart outlines the 8 different play personalities. It is likely that we are a mix of all of these but we may favour one over the others. Let’s explore what the 8 Play Personalities are…
What type of player are you?
Stuart Brown MD says in his book that as we grow older, we develop preferences for the types of play we enjoy. Within his observations, he has found that each person has a dominant mode of play that falls into one 8 types he has identified. He has named these the Play Personalities. They are:
This is the personality we first ever engage with. It is marked by the use of nonsense and playing the fool. Note though that playing the fool is not a low status move in play. The fool can hold an awful lot of power, but that is the subject of a future article. This personality includes practical jokers and that class clown you all laughed with in school.
Stuart Brown actually titles this on the Kinesthete, but I have chosen to use the simpler term the mover. The educationalist and thinker, Sir Ken Robinson, wrote about the choreographer Gillian Lynne in his book Epiphany. He also tells the story in his TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? (the most watched TED talk in all time).
The phrase he uses is “People who had to move to think” which sums up this play personality. The dancers, athletes, and gymnasts are all likely to be dominant in this personality.
Along with the Joker, we engage with the explorer as a baby. We spend a lot of time exploring where we start and end, how we use the appendages hanging off of our body, and so on. Exploring becomes a dominant play type for many people, and they will be those who find fascination, in exploring new areas through travel, their imagination or through new experiences. Writers and researchers most likely have this personality as a dominant. But, we can see that the varying personalities can complement one another. The top snowboarder, Jeremy Jones, says:
The attraction of snowboarding is the freedom it gives you. With a snowboard on your feet, the sky is the limit. You can do anything and go anywhere. This is not just for pro riders, it is for everyone.
Now undoubtedly, Jeremy Jones is a mover. Some of the things he can do on a board are astounding. But he is also something of an explorer too. Most top athletes need to be, as they are driven to move but also to explore what their bodies can do.
This personality type is exemplified from those who find play in the joy of winning a game with rules, in other words a finite game (For more on finite and infinite games see this article). This is most often seen in competitive sports people or “gamers”. We are talking about football players, ballers, Esports players, and so on. They can also be seen in business and socially by people who like to keep score, how much do you earn? What watch do you wear? What car do you drive? Whether this is constructive is a different matter and is explored in our article: What are Finite and Infinite Games?
This could also be titled the planner. This personality type thrives on the planning and execution of an event or scene. They want to organise everything, and that is great, how else are we going to have a party? But there can be a dark side too. What if a director wants to plan everything, even down to what we are allowed to talk about, dress in and eat or drink? The party just doesn’t seem so much fun for everyone else anymore.
This person finds play and fascination in collecting things. Whether it be a tangible object, like stamps, coins, all the albums and singles by Bruce Springsteen, or something less tangible, such as spotting rare birds or noting the numbers on specific trains, or travelling to every US state capital.
I have a friend who collects Les Paul guitars (you know, the type Slash in Guns ‘n’ Roses plays). He now has 14 in his collection. There is little discernible difference in sound between many of them or how they feel to play. He can only play one at a time but he loves to collect them. It seems fairly solitary, but he is also involved in a few social groups for people who collect guitars, so collectors can also be highly social.
This one seems fairly obvious, as we can most readily see the output of artists and creators. They love to make. My wife is a creator, she loves to make so much that she has made making part of her work. She runs classes in sewing and develops sewing patterns for sustainable clothing. When she is home and wanting to relax she will build a new bench for the kitchen or design and develop our wonderful garden. I know many makers and crafters who fall into this category and indeed I am one, although I wouldn’t say it is my dominant play personality. I once spent a year relaxing after work by working in a luthiers workshop (under expert guidance) in order to build my own Mandolin. One day I will learn how to play it.
Lastly, we come to my dominant play personality, the story teller. These are the playwrights, the cartoonists, the screenwriters, the novelists and the authors. Most of my articles on this site have little vignette stories woven into them. Tell stories, and reading them has been where I find I am in Flow. I am part collector and find ways of using stories I have found in my own work. I am also a member of an improv team and we tell stories through our improv skills.
The storyteller makes quick and ready use of the imagination, and this can be brought into almost any activity. The best sports commentary is when a storyteller is commentating, using their imagination to build the drama within the sport taking place.
Play personalities in our teams
It is useful to be aware of the various personalities we have within our teams. As is the case with most team building a good balance is likely to be desirable.
Get in touch with us and we can help your organisation and teams explore the play personalities and how they function. Let’s play!