Metaplay 5

October 18, 2009

Some definitions:

Game: Play with rules.

Rule: A constraint upon behavior that is imposed by social convention.

Play: Good luck with that one.Better scholars than me have tried and failed to define play.


Suck on this Thing I Found

This is a popular play activity performed by infants everywhere with all manner of intended and accidental toys. Is it play? I would say, yes. Does it have rules? No, it does not. It is play, but not a game.

Peek-a-boo (novice player)

Player 1 initiates play by hiding and abruptly returning while vocalizing. Player 2 is startled by Player 1 and reacts. Player 2 realizes that Player 1 is not a real threat and that his or her startle reaction was unwarranted. Comedic irony ensues. (The foundation of all things that are funny is, “I’m in distress; oh, wait, no I’m not!” and it starts right here.)

In this play, Player 1 is using rules, but Player 2 is reacting only with basic physiological/emotional responses. I suppose it counts as a game for Player 1, but not for Player 2.

Peek-a-boo (expert player)

Player 1 initiates play by hiding. Player 2 recalls this from earlier and anticipates the forthcoming abrupt return. Player 1 returns, Player 2 pretends to be startled, reenacting the novice game, and comedy ensues. Or players skip that step altogether and jump straight to the giggling. At this point, the startle effect is assumed, but not obligatory.

A symbolic transformation has occurred! This is a social convention, and thus it is a rule. Player 2 has joined in the game.


Player 1 drops Cheerios from high chair tray. They fall on the floor as opposed to hovering in space of falling to the ceiling. (Not a rule, natural principle of the universe).

Dog eats Cheerios. (Not a rule. More of a natural consequence. Although this does have some qualities of agency, in that the dog’s motivations and behaviors are its own, unlike gravity, which has no agency.)

Player 1 drops spoon. It makes a different sound upon landing than the Cheerios. Dog licks, but does not eat spoon. (I’m beginning to sense a pattern here in that objects tend to fall toward the floor consistently. More data are required to confirm)

Player 1 drops sippy-cup. A third unique sound occurs, perhaps accompanied by more bouncing and rolling than the previous objects.

Unwitting Player 2 returns cup, but not the Cheerios or the spoon. (Okay, now we have a socially established rule. How consistent is this rule? Gravity is pretty persistent, but how many times will Mom give back the cup before the pattern changes? What else will she give back?)

New definition:

Goals: Goals are motivations that are established before the play activity begins. Much play involves behavior directed toward an intended outcome, but there is a difference between intentions that arise as a reaction to things inside the play frame versus intentions that come from outside the play frame.

Examples: Chase each other around in circles

Any number of player run around in imitation of one another in an attempt to catch one another. (This game has pretty simple rules, but it doesn’t really impose a goal.)


Like above, but players run away from a specific player who is intending to catch them. Who the chaser and chasees are change depending on some criteria, most commonly a touch indicating one player has caught the other. (While it looks on the surface similar to the above game, Tag one is much more goal-oriented than the Chase. Tag is much more sophisticated and played by older children.)

Notice that a goal is not the same as a win-condition. Tag is not a game one can “win,” although one could be quite competitive in pursuit of the game’s goal.

Sadly, I’ve started to realize that most of this is not contributing to my dissertation at all, even though it is important and useful to my thinking. I don’t really need this model to make the Pentad work as an AAC intervention. It may be a separate paper at some point.

One Response to “Metaplay 5”

  1. daysleeper Says:

    Love the description of the Gravity game. We’re STILL dealing with that one here.

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