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.

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3 Responses to “Blurry lines part deux”

  1. Pete Says:

    Hm… Play without rules?

    Rules and roles… nice post. Rules by your definition could be environmental factors, such as gravity… right?

    Think about blocks. What rules define blocks? Nothing at the start, but as the player gets more advanced, the physical nature of the blocks dictate the play – and define the rules.

    Then there are the simple social standards. You can’t pick up a block and whack someone with it (as my older brother once did to me) – that’s breaking *the* rules.

    So what is a rule? If you get rid of the physical limitation rules (such as gravity) and the social standard rules (such as hurting the other person) then one could argue that blocks do not have rules… Nor does Peek-a-Boo –

    YES, I am countering your other post (gasp!)

    Peek-a-Boo has a definition, yes, but that does not mean rules. If I break the rules in a game, the game is ruined or I am punished in some way. Rules keep the player from unfairly conflicting with the other players’ goals.

    Peek-a-Boo, however, is a free-flowing exchange of hilarity that normally occurs organically and is only defined by the loose principle of messing with a child’s perception of the world. The timing, faces and etc. are part of the performance…

    Now to counter myself a bit – Peek-a-Boo is not a game… nor is karaoke. I’ve never lost at Peek-a-Boo, but I have made several children cry.

    • G.Fraggle Says:

      Late response: but your question about whether gravity is a rule was pivotal. Thanks. Rules are constraints on behavior that are socially created and enforced. There certainly is a “wrong way” to play peek-a-boo. Try playing with a baby with autism. They violate all sorts of implicit social rules.
      Gravity is a constraint on behavior… but it isn’t created or enforced socially. Therefore it isn’t a rule.

  2. adambowker Says:

    Come back tomorrow for a response to this… There’s a Y-axis to the model.


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