Much attention has been given to the importance of play as the foundational creative activity in early child development, and many of the studies of play and games have followed.
[…] Winnicott developed an extensive analysis of the importance of play as a means to understand not just children’s experience but also that of adulthood. For Winnicott, play was important because it afforded the opportunity to break down the distinction between self and world for a time.
[…] Children’s ability to remake everyday objects into tools of their imagination assumes a lack of distinction between subjective intentionality and the objective environment. In the most direct terms, the cardboard box becomes the spaceship, and so on.

For adults, Winnicott argued that it was in the experience of creativity and in the aesthetic encounter through which the “potential space**” could be temporarily reaccessed. He used as his example being immersed in the experience of listening to music. The listener will identify with a piece of music and feel that it is somehow speaking to her or his experience, causing a rance of emotional and affective responses. Similarly, this example could also be extended to the engagement people feel when watching a movie, looking at a painting, being a spectator at a sports event, or playing a video game. Winnicott’s account of play is useful because it offers a description of how and why some artworks are effective on some and not others, how the experience of game-play is meaningful and potentially liberating (think of the massive online communities of adults playing World of Warcraft), and why play is a recurring component of social relations and adult life. Furthermore, Winnicott’s account privileges artistic creativity as an example of repositioning of “potential space”, drawing an analogy between the child’s play and the artist’s creation of new images and ideas.


**”Potential space” was Winnicott’s term for a sense of an inviting and safe interpersonal field in which one can be spontaneously playful while at the same time connected to others.

David J. Getsy, From Diversion to Subversion: Games, Play, and Twentieth-century Art, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, p. 13.