Every time the Olympics come around, I find myself captivated. I never cease to be amazed by what the athletes are capable of doing as they push the boundaries of human capability. Not only that, but the commitment required even to make it to the Olympics is impressive in itself.
All of that dedication reminds me that "games" are not entirely about fun and play. For many of our athletes, the Olympics are anything but a game. This was also true of athletic "games" in the ancient world: The original Olympic games were highly competitive religious festivals. In the Roman Empire, the word ludus--typically translated as "game" or "play"—could signify a children's game, an adult game (!), a school for kids, or a school for gladiators. Games mean different things to different people.
The Olympic Games also remind us that we ought to play more. Aside from showcasing less mainstream sports like gymnastics and fencing, the Olympics make even everyday activities like running, swimming, and kicking a soccer ball look more exciting. All of the "games" we view as more trivial than our jobs and that we let fall by the wayside suddenly become more than a hobby again. We are reminded that some people dedicate their entire lives to mastering activities that most of us attempt casually—and we respond to that dedication with admiration and respect.
But play isn't only for the people who are the best and the most competitive. Anyone can work on running a little bit faster, or playing chess a little bit smarter, or at least putting up a good fight next time they play Catan. And the benefits of doing that go beyond a gold medal: Play can reduce our anxiety, improve our social lives, and give us a sense of belonging. Not everyone can stand on a podium, but we can all develop our talents at something..
I am no elite athlete. I would much rather spend my day playing with cards, dice, and game tokens. But watching the Olympics reminds me that games are never "just play"—they are something deeper and more valuable than that. So whether you prefer sports, tabletop games, or quality time with your Playstation, go forth and play.
Also, this guy is still hilarious: