x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

My Life: Fatima Al Shamsi on taking time for play

A return to childhood and rediscovering the joy of fun and games.

This summer while scavenging through the treasures of my past, which my mum deemed as clutter, I fell upon one of the greatest sources of joy: my Nintendo 64. After a quick dusting and a furious search for game cartridges, I had my fingers wrapped around the magical three-pronged controller.

The games were just as amazing 15 years later. So this autumn, when I brought the Nintendo back to New York with me from the distant storage space in my grandma's house in Ajman, I was reminded of how the epic rivalries created by games such as Mario Kart and GoldenEye never died. Everyone who found out I was harbouring a prized N64 in my East Village den thought it was crucial to tell me that they would beat me at one of the aforementioned games.

Now it's been a few months since I found my Nintendo and I haven't played video games this consistently since I was 12. I've come to realise again how much fun playing is.

After four years of undergraduate studies when I thought that growing up and being responsible meant letting go of fun, it's been miraculous how relaxing such simple activities are. I'd never before opted to stay home on my couch during weekends instead of going out. You'd think that having just started a master's programme I'd find my classmates have more sophisticated ways to spend their time, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many people would hint that some good old N64 would be the best way to spend time between study sessions.

The older we get, the more our perception of fun changes, but I think we subconsciously assume it's out of character to enjoy some of the same things we did when we were kids. Being responsible doesn't mean forgetting how to have fun or the importance of not being so uptight all the time. Supposedly, as a young woman, I should have better ways to spend my time. But the older I get the more I want to simply chill out and play. While I enjoy a night out and a good restaurant, I've learnt to appreciate sweat pants, cosy hoodies and ice cream as I compete at Mario with my roommates.

Just the other night, a group of us were sipping tea after a dinner party when one of my roommates suggested we play hide-and-go-seek. While I was hesitant at first and doubtful that there would be anywhere for any of us to hide, considering the less than spacious nature of New York real estate, I was surprised at how fast my heart beat in excitement as I held my breath while the seeker walked past me in my hiding spot. I didn't realise how much I had missed playing games with friends with the effortless aim of having a few laughs.

At brunch recently I noticed the four young girls on the table to my left. Clearly in their early teens, they were dressed like miniature versions of painfully trendy adults. As they sipped Perrier and ordered fat-free dressing, I almost felt sorry for them watching their forced adult mannerisms. Increasingly I see young girls dressed way older than their age, sporting mini heels and designer handbags. After my recent childhood renaissance, I relish the fact that at 12 I dressed like a train wreck, spent most of my allowance on cinema tickets and hung out with an equally amazing set of nerdy friends. Childhood wasn't just a time for immaturity, it was also a time when the world was fantastically simple. Although with age comes responsibility, I think it's important that we hold on to the joys that come from playing and from taking a break to think about how important fun is in our increasingly hectic routine.

Whether you're 13 or 23, playtime is good for the soul.


Fatima Al Shamsi is an Emirati based in New York