Guided Meditation Explores the Feeling of Meaningful Play

‘Call to mind something you loved to play when you were young.’

The calm voice of Carrie Heeter, Ph.D., a professor of Media and Information for ComArtSci, opens a guided meditation with a focus on the body and the breath, to help participants reconnect with childhood play. For more than seven years, Heeter has designed cybermeditation, but this is the first time she’s created one centered on meaningful play.

Just under 12 minutes, the Childhood Play Meditation leads every participant to a unique experience. Memories may harken back to a particular game, playing cards or the height of imagination, but at the center of each memory is a feeling of play that holds meaning for the participant.

The meditation experience speaks to a wide range of ages from undergraduates to the elderly, and it even succeeded in reminding an 82-year-old man of the feeling of playing hide and seek in his childhood neighborhood.

“Meditation is a designed experience,” said Heeter, who is also a game designer, user experience designer and meditation expert. A serious student of meditation, Heeter has studied one on one with a meditation teacher and has experienced hundreds of different meditation objects in weekly meditation training classes, for the last 7 years, complementing 300 hours of yoga teacher training to engineer different experiences in meditation. “To me, it’s utterly fascinating. It’s a way of connecting with and strengthening a feeling such as feeling calm, expansive, nourished, or safe.”

A Channel for Meaningful Play

During an academic conference on Meaningful Play held at MSU in October, Heeter taught the Childhood Play Meditation to a group of game designers and developers. Many of those in attendance have devoted their lives to designing and studying games that matter, though many of them had never practiced yoga or meditated.

“I designed this to be an accessible meditation, with no prior experiences needed. Because this is a recorded meditation, anyone can do it,” said Heeter. “I’m using yoga techniques of attention, breathing and movement to help people change the state of their system so they can have a special quality of experience as they call to mind their personal memories of play.”

In October, Heeter led game designers and developers through the meditation, which helped them remember and reconnect with the feeling of play. The meditation brought to mind unique experiences of what each person loved to play, the circumstances of play and their emotions connected to play.

Creating games involves a lot of hard work, but game design experts enjoyed the Childhood Play Meditation and found it relevant to crafting meaningful play. Heeter believes the meditation would be a useful exercise for game design students and game developers, in order to recall and reconnect with what meaningful play feels like.

“One thing that really delighted me is that everyone at the workshop was able to remember specific details and the feeling of play that they had not thought about in years (sometimes decades),” said Heeter. “Most yoga meditations are taught to yoga classes, here I was taking people who may never have been exposed to yoga or meditation and giving them an experience.”

Connecting Meditation to Games

As a champion of Meaningful Play at Michigan State University, Heeter is working to explore connections between meditation and games. She published a recording of the childhood play meditation online, making it available to the public. She believes meditations like this may have broader applications for the classroom, especially in the realm of game development and design.

At a time when public use of meditation and yoga is at an all-time high, Heeter is eager to tap the potential of guided meditation as a form of communication. Even though she finds creativity and innovation in both types of experiences, Heeter compares and contrasts meditation with virtual reality.

“It’s kind of the opposite of virtual reality, which replaces what we see and hear with computer-generated content” said Heeter. She explains how meditation, unlike VR, calls on users’ imagination. “I’m designing experiences that happen inside the person’s mind, with their eyes closed. My job is to help prepare the mind and body and set a general direction. I don't know what will come up.”

Heeter encourages anyone with interest to try the Childhood Play Meditation. Participants are invited to share what happened during their experiences, by using the “Add Reply” option to submit anonymous responses visible on the site.

“For some, this is powerful, and it’s fun. Everyone’s experience is unique.” she said. “People have forgotten what it felt like to play.”

By Melissa Priebe