Blurry lines part deux
October 8, 2008
A game is play with rules.
Can you name a type of play without rules?
I think there might not be.
Even Peek-a-boo has rules. It’s not much of a game to you now, but that turn taking (I do something, you react, I react to your reaction, etc.) is the foundation skill for all later communication skills that develop.
Pretend play is unstructured, but still has rules based on roles. Doctors give shots to patients, not the other way around. Mommys give bottles to babies, not to race car drivers.
What happens when these rules are violated? Sometimes conflicts (“Nuh-uh. That’s not how you do it.”) or sometimes comedy. Sometimes just a sincere exploration of the boundaries of those roles. Kids can take unstructured pretend into all sorts of surreal directions.
Exploring the boundaries of roles is what social pretend play is all about. How does a race car driver respond to being fed a bottle? How does “Mommy” respond to that response? Over time and through repeated experiences, we come to anticipate how others will respond to certain things. We use this skill of anticipation in our social relationships every single day.
We continue to explore roles throughout our lives. Somewhere, in the back of my consciousness, I still feel like, when I put on a blazer and go teach my university course, I am playing dressup and pretending to be a college professor. I do a pretty convincing job of it because I’ve had good models to copy. But at what point do we stop pretending our roles and really embody them? I’m not sure the line is all that clear.