What is Serious Play?

Serious Play is a brand new web site devoted to compiling interesting and useful information pertaining to creative writing, and to showcasing the creative writing program at Miami University-Middletown. The Get Serious section links to information about our creative program—faculty, a program description, course syllabi, and samples of student writing. The Start Playing section compiles writing exercises, research on creative writing pedagogy, and provocative ideas, questions, and suggestions about the writing process and the writing life.

No, I mean what is "serious play"?

Oh, that.

Serious play is a sort of philosophy and/or pedagogy that describes a useful way of approaching the creative process as a learning process. As others have noted:

"In commenting on the design of an educational computer game, Rieber and Matzko (2001: 16) define 'serious play' as 'purposeful, or goal oriented, with the person able to modify goals as desired or needed. Most important, the individual views the experience of serious play as satisfying and rewarding in and of itself and considers the play experience as important as any outcomes produced as a result of it'. Serious play, then, is a process of immersion: the players' attention, fully engrossed and absorbed in the activity results in significant learning..."

—Suzanne de Castell and Jennifer Jenson in "Serious Play"



“Serious play is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation. You hear this theme expressed by Nobel-Prize-winning scientists like Watson and Crick, pioneering artists like Picasso, and industry-defining entrepreneurs like James Watt, Walt Disney, Sam Walton, and Andy Grove. But what does it mean?

It means innovation requires improvisation. It means innovation isn’t about rigorously following ‘the rules of the game,’ but about rigorously challenging and revising them. It means innovation is less the product of how innovators think than a by-product of how they behave. Serious play is about innovative behavior. When talented musicians improvise, you don’t look inside their minds; you listen to what they play. When talented innovators innovate, you don’t listen to the specs they quote. You look at the models they’ve created.

The essence of serious play is the challenge and thrill of confronting uncertainties. Whether uncertainties are obstacles or allies depends on how you play. The challenge of converting uncertainty into manageable risks or opportunities explains why serious play is often the most rational behavior for innovators.

Serious play is about improvising with the unanticipated in ways that create new value. Any tools, technologies, techniques, or toys that let people improve how they play seriously with uncertainty is guaranteed to improve the quality of innovation. The ability to align those improvements cost-effectively with the needs of customers, clients, and markets dramatically boosts the odds for competitive success (Schrage, 2000, pp. 1-2).”

Schrage, M. Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 2000.



"Playtime: Permission to play is a state of grace. More things are wrought by fooling with the materials than this world dreams of.

Worktime: Ah yes. Add the dynamite of workmanlike habits and discipline. Nothing much was ever accomplished without perseverance and steady application."

--Robert Genn, "The Robert Genn Twice Weekly Letter"



"For me, the best writing involves a kind of serious play. But you can't really "play" at writing until you understand its rules and are at ease with its mechanics. Yet mastering your craft is more than a set of rules that you learn. It is an active process."

--Bruce Boston, "Writing Speculative Poetry: An Interview with Bruce Boston." Writing-World.com



"Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play."

—Julia Cameron