Imaginary Playmates

Playing with Personas

Welcome to the playpen, where I share my insights and ideas on the theme of play. This is an experiment on building a kindergarten for adults - to invoke and foster the spirit of play like a child while shouldering the responsibilities of adulthood. Join me, let's play!

Hello everyone, both new and old playmates!

It's been a while since I last wrote to you.

After the rabid daily blitz, I wanted to experiment with a 10-day break. Well, the results are in.

I'm bored AF. It appears the daily publishing momentum makes me hungry to write more.

Michael says I should be out there hunting for whales (that's what he calls long-form, epic essays). Instead, I'm catching fish and throwing them back into the water. Yes, we don't really kill them you see, fish or whales. You ought to follow Michael, I never quite know what he's up to, but I bet it's going to change the world in the days to come.

☯️ Back to My Self

Now that's difficult. I'm a Gemini so there are really two selves to contend with. Add to that the many voices chattering around in my head and you have a helluva cacophony.

Now I'm no conductor of symphonies, so I don't have them all playing along in unison. But I've wrestled my demons and angels both into playfully enjoying the madness that is my mind.

Yes, I'm sure the word madness was already playing in your head when you heard me talking about the voices in my head. Talking to oneself is always frowned upon as an adult and merely tolerated as an eccentricity amongst geniuses. Children however are known to constantly engage in friendly banter with themselves.

I've always had a quiet internal monologue, which I rarely if ever shared with anyone. Loved ones included. Many however carry on these conversations out loud, though in a muted or fumbled tone, not intended to communicate but to comprehend.

These conversations with oneself can be both entertaining and enlightening.

🎩 Imagination and Insanity

As a child, I granted my toys personas to live out. Stereotypically I played with GI Joe, imbibing their plastic bodies with my imagination. I decided the language they spoke, the manner of speech, their movements, their strategies, etc. Sure, I got by with the help of comics which helped me fill their personas out more 'realistically'.

While it was acceptable social behaviour as a child to play with toys, it was still a considerable cause for concern if I did the same without toys. Were I to enact similar games with a self-fashioned doll, I might be considered deprived of toys. Efforts would be made to procure better toys. Or I would be gently pushed towards books.

What if I was found talking to myself aloud? Till what age could I get away with it? When does imagination become insanity? If I were to talk to myself, would I be considered a schizophrenic? Multiple personality disorder perhaps? The ambiguous line between sanity and insanity is not up for debate now, but society does frown upon internal monologues becoming external.

🎭 Personas

The word denotes the aspect that is presented to or perceived by others, i.e. a public image. And it's counterpart directed inwards, is the anima; the inner perception of self.

It might be simplistic to believe that there are a public persona and a private anima. However complex societal interactions have created the need for an individual to have multiple personas. We behave differently in different situations and with different people.

Yet, the perception of one's self is often united under one identity, given name and manner by years of nurture and conditioning. But what if the multiple personas or personalities is a feature, not a bug? Not just a defence or coping mechanism, but also a toy for play and tool for problem-solving.

Talking to oneself is a recognized means to learn, to provoke the speaker into thinking, modify behavior, and perhaps even amend the functional architecture of the plastic human brain.
Writing out our private talks with oneself invites reflection, ongoing thoughtful discourse with the self, and refinement of our thinking patterns and beliefs - Kilroy Oldster

We're all seen children enacting multiple roles and personas while playing alone. So it's potency as a means to entertain is apparent. As a means of problem-solving, it can be equally potent if you still retain such powers of imagination as an adult.

If you don't, don't worry.

📲 There's an app for that!

No, I'm not kidding. Enter Antar! Satya, an enterprising developer has created this invaluable tool called Antar to help you chat with the voices in your head without anyone calling you mad. Well, no guarantees on the second half. If you're on Android, here's the download link. If you're on iOS, hold your horses and everyone else's in your retinue.

I'm going to refer to it as a toy, rather than a tool henceforth. Mainly because I refer to all the tools I use as toys. This way I don't feel like I'm working when I'm using them. But also because I find my use becomes more creative when I consider my activity as play.

The app is very simple, but in its simplicity lies its beauty. I can use it to play many different games. It's like a group chat between you and your many selves (as many as you like).

🕹 How to Play with Personas?

1. Start with a Question

Whether you're playing to entertain yourself, educate yourself, or solve a problem, a question is the easiest way to start. It could be frivolous like 'what color shirt should I wear today?' or perhaps you want to decide whether or not to pursue an MBA? You can even use it to uncover hidden trauma by asking yourself 'why do I get angry with my mother?'.

2. Choose the Players

When you start the game, select the personas who will play. The app allows you to add others later but it's a good practice to establish the roles and personas beforehand to enjoy active gameplay. Take the time to understand each persona's preferences and opinions. If you keep just two characters, the tension between them will be stronger due to the binary nature of the interaction. If you have more players, you can have a more nuanced outlook by each.

3. Everyone must play

Don't let the game be one-sided. Ensure each player gets his/her say in as you proceed through the conversation. The challenge here is to play Devil's Advocate and play both (or more) sides with equal passion. This is easier said that done. And that's why looking at this entire exercise as a game will make it easier and more playful to engage in. If you're having difficulty balancing the expression, just say the exact opposite of the persona you're most comfortable expressing as.

4. Keep Score

You are the person keeping score. The dispassionate observer. The detached moderator who's only curious of the outcome. So don't play favourites. This is a golden opportunity to observe your biases and watch them crumble or strengthen as the conversation continues. The game doesn't necessarily have to end with a conclusion. Sometimes you may be left only with deeper questions, doubts and uncertainties. This isn't a bad thing. The end can be the beginning of a new game, with a new set of players.

🧠 Mind the Limit

There is no limit really to the imagination. You could play the ancient Biblical game - the eternal conflict between good and evil, with two personas of Angel and Devil debating the doubts you raise. I like to keep games simple and silly, so I might call my personas Good Cop and Bad Cop. If you're a card player, use the King, Queen, Jack and Joker as personas. If you're familiar with my ODie concept, you can use +/-/!/?/= to understand your experience.

Let me know how it goes, the app allows you to export your conversation as a flowchart. Modern education places a greater emphasis on learning via instruction rather than exploration. And exploration, like charity, begins at home. Start exploring the various dimensions of your imaginative self before you reach out and find interactive playmates to engage with.

Writing is like talking to yourself, just in a way that makes it look like you're not crazy! - Mary Kate

On that note, I bid adieu. You will be hearing from me every day, again. It appears I'm built for this 🔥 frantic publishing pace. If you can keep up, you're my people. If not, check out the articles on my website at your own leisure. Love you all, either way ♥️