The Power of Play

Immersive experiences have the power to bridge divides and bring people together to explore and play — a unity through experience that’s desperately needed as election season is underway in the U.S.

Editor’s Note: This article by Meow Wolf Founder & Director Vince Kadlubek was originally published in Attractions Management. Republished here with the author’s permission.

Election season is once again upon us, and this cycle looks to be the most divisive yet. Whether we like it or not, the attractions industry has found itself squarely in the political discourse. As Meow Wolf has grown into an expansive company with exhibitions in both red and blue states,* I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my love for art, entertainment, storytelling, and themed attractions and how politics fits into it all. Our industry should not avoid the discourse, but at the same time we hold a unique position and responsibility that we should never forget. 

This world we live in is filled with various forms of division. These separations express themselves through large-scale, aggregated societal forms but they actually originate within each one of us individually.

Division is found within our personal identities, our distinctions, our definitions. We fabricate hard stances based on our own observations of threat – sometimes that threat is real and sometimes it’s exaggerated by our personal mental narratives. We gravitate towards packs of like-mindedness, whether on social media or in social spaces, that then re-enforce these identifiers and perspectives. A loop of validation strengthens our stances in the world, affirms our place as the righteous, and fuels our view of the enemy.

*Editor’s note: The terms “red state” and “blue state” refer to U.S. states whose residents vote predominantly for one party — the Republican or Democratic Party, respectively.

No room for exploration

A caricature of ourself starts to form, increasingly void of nuance, and our delusional minds form the same caricatures about ‘the other’; a simplified construct of human beings painted with low-resolution textures and monochromatic colors. News networks reflect it back to us, and so do the hyper-targeted ads we see on our feeds, and so does the curated algorithms of our social networks, and so does the sub-cultures of the communities we live in. The grey areas become black and white. The result is us vs. them with punitive dogmas running our mental processes. 

Communion becomes impossible. The ecosystem of these defined perspectives leaves no room for exploration or possibility – we become determined by our determinations. Our daily lives are experienced within environments that re-establish our divisions and further define our enemies.

Through an ordinary-looking room, visitors are invited to explore the extraordinary world beyond at Meow Wolf’s latest installation “The Real Unreal” in Grapevine, TX | Photo by Kate Russell, Courtesy of Meow Wolf

The magic of play

But a magical opportunity exists within the landscape of entertainment: Play. Through storytelling, art, and creative expression, humans have crafted make-believe worlds that are free from identifiers and create space to connect as the versions of ourselves that existed prior to when we committed to all of our opinions: The Child.

Because in the limitless world of the imagination, the dividing perspectives of our day-to-day carry little reference or value. Who I am and what I’ve already determined becomes irrelevant within the vastness of dreams. In this binary existence of red vs blue, right vs left, wrong vs wrong, old vs new, black vs white, there’s an alternative space of possibility where nothing has been labeled yet and we can co-exist in the communion of exploration. It’s within our worlds of co-creation.

If that communion can be felt for even the slightest moment, it has the profound power to short-circuit the mechanisms of judgment and remind us that we are loving and forgiving beings that ultimately seek to have peace with one another.

Our industry has been bringing all types of people together for the past century, providing a miraculous opportunity for people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and character to come together to share in wonder and joy with each other, even for small windows of time. That’s the power of art, entertainment, attractions and play; to rise above the predictable divisions of the self and expand our minds towards the shared experience of community.

People of all beliefs and backgrounds can come together and be a child again at Meow Wolf’s exhibits, according to co-founder Vince Kadlubek | Photo by Kate Russell, Courtesy of Meow Wolf

The child inside

I’m reminded of a time when Meow Wolf first opened House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A family standing in line caught my eye. The mom and the two kids were giddy with excitement, but the father, wearing a Harley Davidson tank top and a hat with the Texas state flag, stood there with his arms crossed looking uncomfortable. I could tell that he had already determined that Meow Wolf was not for him. 

An hour later, I was walking around inside the exhibition and saw this family again. The mom and kids were still in a place of enjoyment, and the father was crawling through the fireplace with a huge smile on his face proclaiming: “There’s a dinosaur skeleton in this room that plays music through its bones!” 

The environment allowed the father to drop his identity and instead just explore and play like a kid again. 

This world of imagination is for everyone.

About the Author

Vince Kadlubek | Founder and Director at Meow Wolf

Vince Kadlubek is a founder of Meow Wolf, an art collective that has transformed into an award winning art and entertainment production company that specializes in immersive, open-world walk through experiences. Vince was a featured speaker at Arival 360 | Las Vegas in 2022: Arival Insider Pro Access members can see that session on-demand here.  

Header photo by Kate Russell / Courtesy of Meow Wolf

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