Volume 13, Number 1
This issue of the American Journal of Play appears as the world continues to fight a global pandemic that has cost more than three million lives. As some of our authors and interviewees suggest, play has served an important role during the pandemic. Explorations of how we play and what play means to us remain as relevant as ever.
An interview with developmental psychologists and educators Kathy Hirsh- Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff opens the issue. They discuss playful learning and its relationship to raising and educating successful children in a century that will be characterized by rapid technological and labor force changes. In an interview with the curators of The Strong National Museum of Play, Christopher Bensch, Andrew Borman, Michelle Parnett-Dwyer, and Nicolas Ricketts discuss some of the ways in which play has changed during the pandemic and how the The Strong has sought to document and preserve stories and artifacts about play during this challenging time. Peter Gray draws on self-determination theory and surveys and studies conducted after the first two months of school lockdowns to suggest that, for many children, an increased time for play, increased opportunity to contribute constructively to family life, and increased family togetherness improved mental well-being during the early months of the pandemic. Angela Pyle, Martin A. Pyle, Jessica Prioletta, and Betül Alaca examine misalignments in research, public discourse, and classroom realities related to play-based learning. They suggest that a need exists to develop a broader understanding of play-based learning and its role in classrooms for media outlets and the stakeholders they influence. Video games have become a preferred form of play during the pandemic, and Patrick Markey, Christopher Ferguson, and Lauren Hopkins close the issue with a review of the current research about video game play. Focusing on the areas of social skills, obesity, mood management, visuospatial cognitive abilities, desensitization, violence, and aggression, the authors dispel common myths, consider the medium’s benefits, and conclude that playing video games can be a worthwhile activity for most children when balanced with life’s other responsibilities.
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the past president of the International Society for Infant Studies, served as the Associate Editor of Child Development and is on the governing counsel of the Society for Research in Child Development. In 2021 she was elected as a member of the National Academy of Education. She is on the advisory board for Nickelodeon, Vroom, the Boston Children’s Museum, Disney Junior, and Jumpstart. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy as well as the role of play in learning. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Chair and professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware. She also holds joint appointments in the Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Linguistics and Cognitive Science. She founded and is the director of the Child’s Play, Learning, and Development Lab at the University of Delaware. Golinkoff is the Treasurer of the International Congress on Infant Studies and was an Associate Editor of Child Development. She consults for numerous organizations (e.g., Jumpstart, the Delaware Children’s Museums, and CHOICES for deaf children) and federal agencies. Her research focuses on language development, the benefits of play, and preschoolers’ early spatial knowledge. In 2021 she was elected as a member of the National Academy of Education. As long-time collaborators, Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff have authored fourteen books, including How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn—and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, and Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children. Key words: 6 Cs; Learning Science Exchange (LSX); Playful Learning Landscapes; Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS)
Christopher Bensch is vice president for collections and chief curator at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. He oversees the acquisition of and care for the world’s most comprehensive collection of playthings. He also serves as the primary spokesperson for the National Toy Hall of Fame. Andrew Borman is digital games curator at The Strong. He collects digital games and coordinates the museum’s digital game preservation efforts. Michelle Parnett-Dwyer is curator at The Strong. She collects and interprets a comprehensive collection of toys and dolls. Nic Ricketts is curator at The Strong. He acquires and interprets the museum’s collection of board games, puzzles, and other nonelectronic games, as well as photographs, art, and paper ephemera. In this interview, The Strong’s curators discuss the impact of the pandemic on play and the museum’s collecting and preservation efforts. Key words: distance play; electronic games and COVID-19; medicine and toys; play at home; play during a pandemic; toys and diversity; toy industry and pandemics; toy scarcity in a pandemic
During the first and second months after school lockdown in spring 2020, the author and others conducted surveys in the United States of children aged eight through thirteen and of parents with children the same ages. Contrary to many expectations, they found the children less anxious than they had been prior to the pandemic. The children were getting more sleep, were much more likely to report themselves as happy than sad, were using their free time to discover and engage in new, self-chosen activities, were helping out at home, were enjoying the extra time with their family, and were gaining new respect and appreciation from their parents. The author concludes that these findings, along with findings from other studies early in the pandemic, suggest an increased time for play, an increased opportunity to contribute constructively to family life, and an increased family togetherness improved the mental well-being of many children during at least the first months of the pandemic. He discusses these results in relation to Self-Determination Theory, which posits that psychological well-being depends upon satisfaction of basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, all of which may have been satisfied to a greater extent after lockdown than before. Key words: children’s initiative; children’s resilience; coping with stress; COVID- 19; family togetherness; pandemic school lockdown; play and mental health; Self-Determination Theory
Policy makers around the world increasingly mandate play-based learning in kindergarten classrooms, a pedagogical approach backed by research espousing not only the developmental appropriateness of play-based learning for this age group but also the benefits to students’ academic achievement. Despite these mandates, researchers continue to see a discrepancy between policy and practice. Using the lens of institutional theory, the authors reviewed the issue and discovered that, although free play seems ubiquitous, teacher involvement in play—often fundamental for academic learning—fails to occur in approximately half of the classrooms studied. The researchers found evidence of an entrenched and limited definition of play as being child directed, a definition perpetuated by media depictions. These findings have direct implications for teaching practice, suggesting a need to develop a broader understanding of play-based learning and its role in classrooms for media outlets and the stakeholders they influence. Key words: institutional theory; media and education; play-based learning; teacher perceptions; teacher practice
Whether kids should be encouraged to play video games remains a topic of debate among many parents, who often entertain some of the myths associated with video game play. The authors review the latest scientific evidence to dispel worries that video game play contributes to obesity, desensitizes players to real-world violence, and causes aggressive behavior. They also discuss research that demonstrates video game play helps improve social skills and visuospatial cognitive abilities, aids in mood management, and even appears to decrease real-world violence. They conclude that playing video games can be a worthwhile activity for most children when balanced with other life responsibilities. Key words: learning and video games; obesity and video games; play and video games; violence and video games
If shielding children from adult realities was a central tenet of Progressive reform, the George Junior Republic stands out for doing the opposite. Established with the motto “Nothing without labor,” the Republic’s young citizens were literally forced to work or face the prospect of starvation. This occurred at a time when most reformers sought to protect “priceless” children from labor, arguing that employed youth were succumbing to the dangers of industrialization rather than nourishing their playful and inquisitive energies. Perhaps surprisingly, William R. George, the Junior Republic’s founder, moved in the same circles as other Progressives and had their support despite the labor component of his youth-serving institution. How do we reconcile, then, the protectionist narrative associated with Progressive reform
and a Progressive reformatory that sought to temper children through exposure to work?
The importance of play is widely recognized by those of us working in the field of early childhood education. The book Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children’s Learning, edited by Marie M. Masterson and Holly Bohart, not only addresses the importance of play in pre-school and kindergarten programs but it also explores the importance of guided play and the role of educators in connecting learning goals to children’s play.
Playwork as a term for a methodology and service is well known (if not fully understood) in the United Kingdom and a few other geographic regions, but it is not one commonly used in the Americas. Fortunately, playwork does exist and is beginning to flourish in the Americas thanks to the efforts of a few revolutionaries. In addition, many professionals who work with children incorporate elements of playwork in their everyday practice, although they may not be aware of it. This book can help these professionals ground their practices in theory as well as improve them.
This anthology’s seventeen chapters provides an introduction to the various interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), interventions which are either play based or involve creative expression. The various authors, all experts in their areas of intervention, include professionals from a wide range of disciplines such as marriage and family therapy, school and mental health counsel- ing, pediatric psychology, social work, and expressive arts. The book is organized into four sections—“Foundations,” “Individualized Play-Based Interventions,” “Programmatic Play-Based Intervention,” and “Expressive/Creative Interventions.” Section 1 includes two chapters that explore the neurology of play and the specific issues for individuals with ASD and play. Section 2 includes nine chapters that cover a diverse group of intervention methods including theraplay, canine-assisted play therapy, LEGO-based play therapy, devel- opmental play therapy, and filial therapy. The programs discussed in three chapters of the third section are DIR Floortime, the PLAY project and the ACT project. The final section of artistic and expressive therapies consists of chapters about art, music, and dance therapy.
Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities by Benjamin Stokes introduces local community games as a distinct game type that involves real-world involvement and helps strengthen communities. As the author writes, “This book is about reclaiming the local roots of play and aligning them with the digital practices and channels that are increasingly central to modern life” (p. 5). He aims to use this distinction to separate local games from other kinds of games and also to bridge the gap between practitioners and scholars. Using several case studies and a multidisciplinary lens, Stokes creates a holistic and socially minded method to design, analyze, optimize, and implement local games. He also offers a framework to define local games and differentiate them from other games happening in local spaces.
It has become common in the twenty years since the start of the infamous narratology versus ludology debates in game studies for scholars, developers, critics, and players to comment on the supposed antagonism between play and narrative. In Chaucer’s Losers, Tison Pugh challenges the assumptions inherent in this theoretical divide and poses new, queer directions for considering narrative play and playful narratives across media. Although certainly not the first work to consider narrative and play together or to explore the concept of ludonarratology (recent explorations include works by Souvik Mukherjee, Tamer Thabet, and many others), Chaucer’s Losers is innovative for its focus on gender and identity in the dynamic convergence of narrative and play in many types of texts that Pugh calls “ludonarrative artifacts,” including novels, plays, films, and fan creations such as Muggle Quidditch, based on the Harry Potter novels. This eclectic and eyebrow-raising collection of case studies is surprisingly fitting for a book on queer ludonarratology, and it allows Pugh to highlight how ludonarrative takes many forms that all relate to gender and identity in some way and further have queer potentials to disrupt these systems. In this regard, Chaucer’s Losers is a timely intervention in ongoing discussions of
game narrative that rarely consider gender outside of representation of women and LGBTQ characters. That said, while the book draws heavily on game studies research, its case studies are almost exclusively not games (except for one chapter on The Legend of Zelda series). As Pugh states in the book, this is intentional—it pushes for a broader understanding of where we find games and game-like structures—yet readers with backgrounds in games and play may find the lack of game references and examples limiting.
The cultural phenomena of play and games have been increasingly commodified by capitalism, which is perhaps most evident in how the digital games industry captures, exploits, and profits from people’s desire to play (see, for example, Aphra Kerr’s 2017 book Global Games: Production, Circulation and Policy in the Networked Era). To understand this commodification, Jamie Woodcock’s Marx at the Arcade provides a thorough and easily accessible overview of the economic and social struggles within the games industry, its products, and the culture around them. The book does a splendid job of appealing to two readerships—first, to those who are unfamiliar with games and play, introducing them to the significance of both within capitalism and, second, to those readers who are well versed in games and play but overlook the ways that capitalism shapes and exploits them by the production, circulation, and consumption through a global cultural industry and, importantly, how workers organize and struggle within this system. From global corporations like Microsoft, Sony, Apple, and Google to the dagongmei working at hardware factories in China to the easily exploited QA staff in Canada to the retail industry and monopolistic distribution platforms to the chauvinistic games themselves, Woodcock gives both readerships a state-of-the-art analysis of the games industry’s economic stratification, the dominating market actors, the labor struggles, and the relation between ideology and economy seen in mainstream digital games.
Framed by the cultural and political backdrop of the 2016 election in the United States, the #GamerGate backlash beginning in 2014, and the nascent indie games movement (queer and otherwise), Bonnie Ruberg’s The Queer Games Avant-Garde offers a well-curated, thoughtful, playful, behind-the-sequined-curtain look at the “rising tide of indie games being developed by, about and often for LGBTQ people” (p. 3). Ruberg weaves together working definitions of “queer” and “games” and “avant-garde” and makes astute connections across past, present, and future that leans into the messiness of a diversity of perspectives and lived experiences of the featured artists, writers, organizers, and creators and that emphasizes the powerful idea that “making video games as queer people is a political act” (p. 6). All of the conversations presented within the book are also in conversation with one another, and collected interviews revel in the resonances, frictions, sparks, glitter, and the occasional heavy petting across games, stories, identities, and theories. These postcards from the vanguard allow LGBTQ players, designers, and makers to speak for themselves and to offer insights into the practicalities, economies, and the vagaries of game making and game sharing, as well as of the gaming communities.
Peter Gray is Research Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Boston College. He is the author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, eight editions of the textbook Psychology (with coauthor David Bjorklund on the most recent two editions), and numerous articles on play, behavioral biology, evolutionary psychology, and education. Gray is a founding member of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education and the nonprofit Let Grow. He also writes the Freedom to Learn blog for Psychology Today.
Patrick M. Markey is Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Villanova University and a former president of the Society for Interpersonal Theory and Research. His research about interpersonal interactions and media often garners media attention, and he has been featured or interviewed by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today, 20/20, CNN, Fox News, ABC, NPR, BBC, PBS, The Economist, US News and World Report, MTV, ABC News, Time Magazine, and the Washington Post. He is also the coauthor of Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong and F*ck Divorce: A Science Based Guide to Piecing Yourself Back Together after Your Life Implodes. Christopher J. Ferguson is Professor of Psychology at Stetson University. His work on media and gun violence has been published in such anthologies and periodicals as Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Communication, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, and Personality and Individual Differences. In addition to Moral Combat, which he coauthored, his books include How Madness Shaped History and Suicide Kings, a mystery novel. Lauren Hopkins is a graduate student at Villanova University whose research covers video games, prejudice, and interpersonal relationships.
Angela Pyle is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study. She has studied the development of personal, social, and academic skills by young children through play-based learning and her publications appear in such journals as American Educational Research Journal, Elementary School Journal, and Teachers College Record. Martin A. Pyle is an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University in the Ted Rogers School of Management and his publications, concerning the information sources individuals use to guide their choices and decision, appear in various marketing journals. Jessica Prioletta is an Assistant Professor at Bishop’s University in the School of Education and her work, published in such journals such as Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Education Journal, examines gender inequalities in early childhood education, especially in children’s play. Betül Alaca is a doctoral candidate in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto.