Revisiting ‘The Power of Play’, 10 years later

Reading time: 6 minutes

It was 2012, I was 27 years old and I felt as if I was at the zenith of my career. It was the year of change and ambition, of standing in the limelight. Of attending award shows and even taking the stage at a TEDx event. I rode on a high, and I loved it.

Mixed feelings

When I look back at that time, I have mixed feelings. There is humility and a bit of shame. How could I, at 27, be so full of myself? There was (and sadly, sometimes still is) that imposter syndrome; at times I felt like a jumped-up country-boy upstart.

And yes, mixed feelings, because I admire the curiosity and courage of my younger self. Oh, the things I did!

Looking back at 27 at 37, I feel like I have come a long way.

So what happened, the last ten years? Well, I guess life happened. I moved halfway across the country, lost a parent, wound up overworked, switched between jobs (twice), travelled around the world, became a Scrum Master, became an uncle, finally settled and got married. Years of many valuable lessons learned, lessons that can only be taught by experience.

(I wonder if I will feel like that at 47, looking back at 37.)

“It’s a TEDx”

Last Friday, during a beer, Paul, a colleague of mine, reminded me that I once ‘did a TED talk’. I caught myself acting rather embarrassed about it. I always correct people that “it’s a TEDx” and that I never ever rewatched it, because I could not stand watching myself. I just remember a lot of nerves and malfunctioning presentation hardware.

I recalled that it was ten years ago, I vividly remember the date. It was October 3rd 2012. It was ‘TEDx HanzeUniversity’ at the former ‘FORUM Images’ cinema at the Hereplein in Groningen, The Netherlands.

Revisiting ‘The Power of Play’, 10 years later

Paul dared me to rewatch it. He said it was pretty good and I should give it a try.

I would have to face something I have dreaded for the past ten years.

But how am I going to face future challenges if I can’t even take a look at the (or my) past?

Ok, then. F*ck it. But allow me to share with you the journey to  – and a retrospective of – that TEDx talk.

The road to October 3rd

So before I delve into the video, let me talk about how I got there.

In 2012, l ran into the organizing committee of ‘TEDx HanzeUniversity‘ at an event where I was talking about a project I had worked on.

That year, the Nintendo Wii-game “The Explorer and the Mystery of the Diamond Scarab” released. This was a so-called ‘serious game’ (or ‘applied game’) to help visually impaired children to a) play together with their non-visually impaired siblings and friends and b) help develop their underdeveloped motor skills. A pretty cool project that got a lot of attention and got quite a few awards as well!

Being a Hanze University of Applied Sciences 2006-alumnus and having worked on such a praised title made me a potential speaker for the upcoming TEDx. I gladly accepted, because this was a great chance for me to talk to a large audience about a subject near and dear to me. Having recently watched the movie Prometheus, I imagined myself as Peter Weyland from the fictional TED talk

There is not much I remember from preparing the talk. I wanted to talk about the role of play and games in human society, advocating the cause of (more) gamification and play in society. One thing I do remember is receiving the book ‘Drive’ by Daniel H. Pink as a gift from the organizing committee – a book that is still very dear to me.

Let’s watch the video!

So here it is, here is the talk:

Fun fact! I actually wore glasses because I thought it would make me look smarter. Bas, you dumb-ass.

The outline

The Power of Play is in general about the impact that gaming has on society and that games (and playful interaction) should be taken seriously.

The presentation starts with a few anecdotes how games have played a large role in my youth and how my family played both an active and a (mildly) criticizing role. And I was not alone in that, for I grew up in a generation where games as a media became broadly and socially acceptable. I told the audience about my childhood pastimes, my dreams of ever being involved in the making of video games and eventually getting to work at a Groningen-based serious game studio (after a thesis project for a large healthcare serious game). I shared with the audience about the recent “The Explorer” project and that that it helped solve various ‘serious’ issues but that it was in essence ‘a cool game’.

And then I get to the point of my talk. The term ‘serious games’ is an oxymoron. Which implies that games are purely for fun and in itself not to be taken seriously, unless they are branded that way. And that is a false assumption. Games are used since prehistoric times to learn certain skills (ranging from hunting to warfare) – or to cope with difficult times. Gaming in present times also give people new ways of forming communities and social bonds.

There is also a big opportunity to use game design principles in everyday life (gamification) to make normal chores a lot more fun. I described this as: “When we do things, we just do them. When we love doing things, we do them better. ”

I end the talk with an important take-away to summarize the points made above:

“Take a funny look a serious things and a serious look at funny things.”

Looking back

So, what is my verdict? Was I successful in bringing across my points?

Let me start off: it wasn’t that bad. Or at least, not as bad as I remember. My level of English has advanced but this talk was pretty OK to listen to. I remember being quite nervous (and it shows a bit, knowing myself) because there were some technical difficulties with my Prezi presentation. But that is all in retrospect.

I forgot all about the core messages in the talk. But that went pretty well. I did bring across a great point about the ’emancipation’ of gaming, that it is an integral part of society. It’s more than just fun, both from a historical but also a social and economic perspective.

Back in 2012, this message was still needed. I doubt if this message would still be relevant in this day and age where gaming has become even more engrained in society. It sure has lost a lot of stigma’s that it had in the earlier days and gamification has gained so much popularity that it is used in every-day product design.

All in all, I am glad I got the opportunity to speak on such a big stage. It’s quite a big thing, talking in a non-native tongue at such a big event. People still liked it, and are apparently not as critical as I am. They could look beyond the awkward silences and frustrated head-turns and see the message for what is. I am glad I revisited and watch the talk, it was long overdue. Ten years have passed but for the first time I can genuinely say, without shame, that I am proud of what I have done.


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