American Journal of Play

In this Issue

This issue arrives amid a global pandemic that has changed the ways in which many of us play. It’s fitting then, that an interview focused on online play with the distinguished sociologist T.L. Taylor opens the issue. The issue also includes articles on the history of play studies, the cognitive processes that underlie the capacities to play and pretend play, playfulness and assortative mating, and young children’s computer tablet play.

Editor's Note

This issue of the American Journal of Play goes to press amid a global pandemic that has changed the ways in which many of us and our families and friends play. It is fitting then that we take this opportunity to acknowledge play’s critical role in challenging times and to thank our subscribers, readers, and authors for their continued support.

An interview with the distinguished sociologist T. L.Taylor opens the issue. She discusses various kinds of digital and online play, including her foundational work tracing the rise of massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs), esports, and game live streaming. In an article adapted from Thomas S. Henricks’s new book Play: A Basic Pathway to the Self (published by The Strong in 2020), he examines the history of play studies and the thinkers, philosophers, scholars, and practitioners who led to the creation of the discipline. Alejandra Wah draws on evolutionary theory to explore which cognitive processes underlie the capacities to play and to pretend play in human and nonhuman animals. Garry Chick, René Proyer, Andrew Purrington, and Careen Yarnal discuss being playful, having a good sense of humor, and being fun loving in relationship to assortative mating or the tendency of individuals to mate with phenotypically similar at rates greater than chance. Thomas Enemark Lundtofte closes the issue with a review of the research and scholarly literature about young children’s play with tablet computers.

Interview

Overview

T. L.Taylor is Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and cofounder and Director of Research for AnyKey, an organization dedicated to supporting and developing fair and inclusive esports. She is a qualitative sociologist who has focused on internet and game studies for over two decades, and her research explores the relations between culture and technology in online leisure environments. Her Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming (2018), which chronicled the emerging media space of online game broadcasting, won the 2019 American Sociological Association’s Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology book award. She is also the author of Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming (2012) and Play between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture (2006), and coauthor of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (2012). Key words: assemblage; coconstruction; esports; Everquest; live streaming; MMOG; professional gaming; Twitch; video games

Articles

by Thomas S. Henricks

Abstract

In an article adapted from his latest work, Play: A Basic Pathway to the Self, published by The Strong in 2020, the author offers a wide-ranging review of play studies—and the thinkers, philosophers, and scholars who led to the creation of the discipline. He also reviews and seeks to explain for both specialists and more general readers the great diversity of play itself, which he ultimately considers a “pathway of experience” that resembles other such pathways as ritual, work, and what he calls communitas. Key words: communitas, play, play scholarship, play studies, play theory, ritual, work

by Alejandra Wah

Abstract

Drawing on evolutionary theory, the author questions which cognitive processes underlie the capacities to play and to pretend play and the degree to which they are present in both humans and nonhuman animals. Considering cognitive capacities not all-or-nothing phenomena, she argues they are present in varying degrees in a wide range of species. Recognizing the risks involved in comparative studies, she identifies the unique features of cognition underlying pretend play while describing the broader phylogenetic sources from which they come. In the end, she finds, although play based on particular degrees of memory, perception, and consciousness can be found in many species, pretend play depends on distinctive degrees of memory, imagination, and metacognition—a cognitive process she calls “reflective imagination”—and appears characteristically human. Keywords: consciousness; imagination; memory; metacognition; perception; play; pretend play; reflective imagination

by Garry Chick, René Proyer, Andrew Purrington, and Careen Yarnal

Abstract

The authors discuss assortative mating, the tendency—important for increased genetic variation—of individuals to mate with the phenotypically similar at rates greater than chance. Influenced by many factors—physical characteristics like height and weight and demographic elements like behavior and attitudes, economic status and education, church attendance and ethnic identity, politics and personality—assortative mating has been considered with regard to having a good sense of humor but never to being playful or being fun loving. Based on a study of 254 undergraduates, the authors examine how these variables correlate with the search for desirable mates by adults and suggest the variables are indeed subject to assortative mating. Key words: assortative mating, fun loving, mate choice, playfulness, sense of humor, social homogamy

by Thomas Enemark Lundtofte

Abstract

The author reviews the research and scholarly literature about young children’s play with tablet computers and identifies four major topics relevant to the subject—digital literacy, learning, transgressive and creative play, and parental involvement. He finds that young children’s tablet computer play relies not only on technology, but also on sociocultural conditions. He argues that research should pay greater attention to transgressive play and should in general treat play as an autotelic concept because the nuances of play are as important as its function. He calls attention to the lack of affordances for creativity in apps for young children, explores the need for parental involvement in young children’s tablet computer play, and discusses the importance of agency and access in such play. Key words: digital media; iPad; tablet computer; play and young children

Book Reviews

by Julia Kroeker

This comprehensive collection, with chapters addressing different areas of play, features work from an impressive list of experts in the fields of education, psychology, family science, animal science, play-work, sociology, anthropology, history, and others. An indispensable resource for play, this well-organized handbook includes such sections as the “Evolution of Play” (including mammalian play), “Development of Play in Humans,” “Historical and Anthropological Context,” “Theories of Play and Research Methodology,” “Play and Learning,” “Play with Special Groups,” and “Play Spaces and the Rights of Children” and offers current research on different types of play and classic theories about play.

by Olga S. Jarrett

This informative, inspiring book is coauthored by Pasi Sahlberg, a teacher and the Director General of Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, and William Doyle, American author and television producer. When Doyle interviewed a panel of educators for a book he was writing on school improvement, one of them—Howard Gardner (known for mul- tiple intelligences)—suggested he take a look at Finland, which led Doyle to Sahlberg’s writings. During one of Sahlberg’s New York trips, the two met and decided to collaborate. Salhlberg became visiting professor at Harvard, and Doyle became Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Eastern Finland and advisor to the Ministry of Education and Culture. These authors, both fathers, gained insights into the role of play (or lack of play) in their new countries, through their own work and their children’s experiences. What they learned illuminates the role of play for the education and well-being of children; and their insights have important implications for U.S. educational reform.

by Jay Mechling

Some folklorists look at scientific research for concepts to help them understand the everyday, expressive (as opposed to instrumental) communication in the small groups they usually study. Neuroscience, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology offer insights that bring biology back into the interdisciplinary mix used by folklorists. This well-researched and well-written book by K. Brandon Barker and Claiborne Rice provides a welcome addition to this growing body linking traditional folklore studies to current scientific research and to thinking about human behavior.

by joan miller

About five years ago, I was a masters student applying to graduate school at the University of Southern California with a writing sample called “Raceplay: Cross-Racial Pop Culture Cosplay as Political Speech” (now a chapter in a forthcoming book). During my interview for the program, I had the opportunity to discuss the paper with my now-advisor, Henry Jenkins. I told him I could hardly find any reference texts on cosplay, and I asked if he had any suggestions. We were both stumped and, much like the authors Paul Montfort, Anne Pierson-Smith, and Adam Geczy, I had to draw on popular sources and on theory focused on other fannish practices to cobble together a theoretical understanding of cosplay.

by Evan Torner

The concept of postmodernism has been appraised quite differently by continental European and Anglo American academics. Whereas many Anglo American scholars—Terry Eagleton, Nicholas Birn, Jane Elliott and Derek Attridge among them—have historicized the postmodern period as spanning the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and now consider our current literary period “after ‘theory’” or “post theory,” many continental European scholars—Pierluigi Pellini and Pierre Ouellet among them—are still preoccupied with postmodernism as a relevant heuristic category. So, too, is René Reinhold Schallegger, who argues (in dialog with Linda Hutcheon) in his book The Postmodern Joy of Role-Playing Games that postmodernism inherently has “a ludic logic at work, talking of players and moves” (p. 19). To Schallegger, role-playing games (RPGs) are sites at which the postmodern achieves social and narrative expression. Indeed, as the title of the book suggests, the participants in such games experience postmodern “joy,” the pleasure of seeing language as procedural rather than factual; as always interrupted and contingent rather than fluid, explanatory, and coherent. The book does a laudable job in its explanations of postmodernism and its tensions with modernism. Yet the book stumbles when applying this theoretical framework to RPGs. The reasons for this are illuminating in and of themselves.

by Matt Knutson

Editors Michael Fuchs and Jeff Thoss offer in a collection of essays a contribution to the subject of game intermediality, or in the editors’ terms, “interrelatedness” of video games to other media (p. 1). The title’s forward-and-backward construction (Intermedia Games—Games Inter Media: Video Games and Intermediality) connotes a difference between “intermedia games” as “the intermedial dimension within games” and “games inter media” as “games’ relationship to and place within a larger media ecology” (p. 9). The book does not suggest, as the title at first might appear to, that games “inter” media as in burying them, as provocative as this sense of the word might be. Rather, this collection applies intermediality studies, a field that has “largely been developed in continental Europe,” to video games, which “rarely take center stage” in scholarly discussions of intermediality (p. 3). Thus, the collection’s central effect is to illustrate the applicability of intermediality studies to games and contribute to a body of scholarship that has been comparatively underdeveloped.

by Leo Bunyea

Bonnie Ruberg’s monograph Video Games Have Always Been Queer serves to empower the LGBTQ+ community in video game culture. This book puts a variety of games in conversation with critical queer theorists while also drawing attention to nonnormative methods of design and play. Its chapters are divided into two parts; “Discovering Queerness in Video Games,” containing chapters 1 through 4, and “Bringing Queerness to Video Games,” containing chapters 5 through 7. Ultimately, this book argues that ludic spaces have always been queer and facilitated queer identities.

by Markku Reunanen

The first wave of affordable microcomputers that became available in the late 1970s and early 1980s changed the course of millions of lives: to have a real computer at home would have been unimaginable just a decade earlier. Many early enthusiasts look fondly back to those early days, and currently retro computing (games in particular), is more fashionable than ever. Colorful coffee table books evoking nostalgia lay at one end of the spectrum, but occupying the other are research papers and books that represent scholars’ ongoing efforts to analyze the home computer era. Many of these accounts have been notably Americentric, or focused on other hotbeds of the gaming industry, such as Japan or the United Kingdom. Only relatively recently have authors started paying attention to so-called “local histories,” expanding the geographical scope of the history of computing, and unearthing peculiarities specific to less-known hobbyist communities all over the world.

In Memoriam

Past Issues

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American Journal of Play cover, Volume 12, Number 1, Fall 2019
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