There was a time at Laughing Coyote Project when I questioned playing games with students. As we went deeper and deeper into the practice of primitive skills, connecting with our Colorado landscape, I struggled to see how playing games fit into our programs. Sure, they were fun, and students loved them. But often I would feel like we were wasting time that could be spent on bowdrill, cordage, or containers.
Then something shifted. For my personal worldview, I began to look beyond “just” the physical skills, the crafting of projects. Primitive skills opened up my eyes to the natural world. As I dove deep into bowmaking, flintknapping, hidetanning, and cordage, I began to participate more in the landpscape. This enhanced my experience of tracking and foraging, which enlivened my time in wild places.
Then I encountered the idea of natural movement, and began to realize that a key piece of primitive skills, or rather connecting to our humanness, was learning to move our bodies in space. Throughout the world, different cultures prioritize different forms of movement. Some develop incredible swimming abilities, whereas others focus more on climbing, or carrying, or running. The beautiful thing about our human bodies is this adaptability, the capacity to continually grow and evolve and change.
Suddenly, game playing became essential. It is the perfect modality to run, walk, crawl, jump and throw. Without thinking, the body moves in dynamic ways when chasing, fleeing, or evading.
Many movements we utilize in games are characteristic of human beings. Throwing is a great example. The human body is uniquely evolved to throw. Games like dodgeball, and all of the variations we play, develop and exercise this skill.
There are some movements we have less opportunity to explore, due to our landscape. Swimming is an obvious missing skill. We don’t have access to water at our site. Climbing is another. With the majority of the trees on our site being thorn-laden Russian Olives, climbing is essentially out of the picture. We imagine a day in a few decades as we have planting new generations of native trees when this will change, but for now our feet stay on the earth. Except when we are jumping. With abandon.
And there is a deeper intangible aspect as well to playing games as well. Connection. Teamwork. Community. Playing together on a daily basis, for years, builds camaraderie and rapport unlike any activity I am aware of, all by simply moving our bodies in space.
So is playing games a primitive skill? If we look at the root of “primitive”, and reframe it as “first skills”, then absolutely it is. I believe we have been playing games since beyond the mists of time. All animals play to learn when they are young, but humans continue to play, to connect, to grow and adapt and change in response to their environment throughout their lives. In many ways, playing games might be at the core of what we do at Laughing Coyote. Now I am off to play…