I know what ‘fun’ means to me, but just to make sure, I asked The Oracle (Google) to <define: fun> and found that fun is: enjoyment, amusement, light-hearted pleasure. I was right! So far so good. Dare I proceed? What the heck, let’s see what The Oracle has to say about ‘play’. According to Google, the noun ‘play’ is: activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children; the verb is defined as: [to] engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
Why did this come up?
The topic of a group discussion I recently came across was: teaching an autistic child how to play. This is a valid question for someone who wants their autistic child to take advantage of the potential pleasure afforded by toys (other than their use as projectiles). However, I started thinking about what fun actually is. What is fun for me is probably pretty boring to other people. Most of what I find enjoyable involves learning new things, untangling mysteries, uncovering arcane facts; you know, really fun things.
In the case of my new grandson (just 2 months old), the things that give him pleasure are clear from the videos his Mom sends my wife and me: 1) his mother’s voice; 2) the animal mobile hanging above him; 3) practically every sound he hears. As he goes about the business of growing, he does take time to ‘smell the roses’ so to speak, provided by Mom, Dad and Big Sister.
It becomes a lot more complicated in the case of a less responsive, autistic child. Observation is key. A slight indication of enjoyment would be grounds for exploring its cause, which could be a doorway to even more pleasure for the child.
My parents always had my older brother Michael’s busy box in the trunk. This was a red plastic box that had dials and buttons and knobs that did different things. However, I think the activity that Mike (autistic, nonverbal and low functioning) liked the best was stacking smaller colored plastic rings on top of larger rings on a central post, although that might have been my father’s favorite activity for him. Dad wasn’t too observant. But to be fair, Mike wasn’t the easiest person to observe. He was happy pacing back and forth giving himself a smack now and then. Toys were beyond Michael’s comprehension.
I know what is fun for me, and it usually involves solitary activities. Having fun with others, particularly playing games, is usually not that much fun. When I was a teenager, I was terribly shy, but wanted to meet girls. I didn’t know any girls at all. I went to a youth group party once. I suppose someone thought it would be hysterical fun for a boy to clench an orange under his chin and pass it, without the aid of hands, to the next person in line, a girl. Hysterical, don’t you think? I didn’t wait around to see how it came out.
This brings up another definition of fun
The free dictionary provides another definition of the ‘fun’: “perhaps from obsolete fon to make a fool of”. “I was just funning you,” is a sentence that illustrated this meaning. I suppose many people think it is a lot of fun to see shy teenagers sweat under uncomfortable social situations. Who knows, there may be a bonus humiliation in store, for some unfortunate teenage boy with an overactive libido. There must be something to this, since reality talent shows are such a big hit. Isn’t it great to see the no-talent amateurs make fools of themselves? What fun!
But I digress…
Having fun together
The TV show Monk had an episode where the main character, an obsessive, compulsive detective with no social skills, arranges a party for his police colleagues. He doesn’t have a clue about how to joke around, but notices that playful jabs and barbs are thrown about, among the group of friends. Monk thinks he gets the hang of it, but the barbs and jabs he throws are not funny at all; they expose personal failings and embarrassments of the people he ‘jokes’ with, and everyone goes away hurt. I suppose this can be called ‘party blindness’. (I haven’t looked it up in the DSM-5, but who knows, maybe ‘party blindness’ is in there.) Party behavior is really hard to figure out for some people.
I suspect that having fun with another person is more or less a universal problem. When I was a kid hanging around with my friends, the conversation went like this, “What do you want to do?” answered by, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” Those who have never had that experience should see the movie Marty, with Ernest Borgnine. The triumphant Marty ends up resisting pressure from his peers and embarks on a process to make a life with a nice girl he met.
I like to think that Marty and his girl figure out their formula for having fun together.