Home » E-Learning » Sharing a response in Week 3 of FutureLearn’s ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town.

Sharing a response in Week 3 of FutureLearn’s ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town.


It has been fascinating as a parent to watch my children growing up. Of particular interest and relevance here are video games and how my son and his friends always sought out cheats and hacks that became part of the play process. Playing ‘Call of Duty’ online with his friends from school my son found a hack that got them in behind the wireframe landscapes. So having tired, or not, the tailored activities and levels of game play they would now make up their own behind the scenes missions in a lawless, often low functioning underworld. Finding the limits, subverting the rules, joining in with your mates and teaching each other what is what, continuing conversations they started in the playground and most importantly often getting into arguments that having a long laugh all made up their play

Susan Levine suggests that modernisation is possibly changing the essence of play. I would argue that whilst the context and tools of play may be different, in essence it is the same thing: our brains and child development haven’t evolved into something different, how could they?

What strikes me as potentially different isn’t to do with comparisons between the modern world and the past, or between levels of development, or specific cultures, it could however come down to communities, and even been confined to the family. Do your parents or carers allow you to play? How controlled and monitored were you formative years? Were you isolated, even in most desperate circumstances confined to a room alone … or to the other extreme were you surrounded by siblings and friends and given considerable freedom to come and go between mealtimes and bedtimes as you wished? The household of the Duke of York, home to the future Kings Edward VIII and George V, was horribly strict with two nurses, an nursery footman, governess and tutor given orders to push the children hard for the later responsibilities they would have. They barely had a moment without strict adult supervision; what they could do was prescribed and closely supervised so play was limited, controlled or even stylised, no wonder both ended so ‘screwed’ up – Edward VIII throwing away the crown in abdication, and George V having to be treated for a severe stamina and painful shyness. It is understandable how, for example, orphaned and mentally ill children in Romania, confined, even chained to cots from a young age, would be so developmentally disadvantaged: at that moment in their development when they needed to socialise and play they could not. Life was a serious business by all accounts in the 1930s depression too. I cannot help but feel some children of that era, in certain parts of the world, were ‘denied a childhood’ and turned out to be rather ‘odd’ adults with particular challenges. Both geographically and historically where children are denied the opportunity to play do they develop an odd, even contrary view of the world?

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8 Comments

  1. Penelope Bell says:

    Jonathan, I am participating in Medicine and the Arts. I find your comments very interesting and they reflect the conclusion I came to in doing this exercise: that differences in past and modern play exist merely in delivery and form, rather than in essence. I did think that socialisation might be a problem for some in modern times; however, your comment about your children’s behaviour in this area makes me revise my opinion – at least some children use modern games to interact with one another. Your examples of the royal nursery regime endured by the former Edward VIII and George VI alongside the Roumanian orphanage children’s experiences are very telling in the importance of play to people in all strata of society. We all recognise that alcohol, tobacco and other substances can alter brain patterns; perhaps there should be wider discussion over the lack of play in some individuals’ backgrounds. It could well account for some “odd” personality traits resulting from lack of stimulation to those areas of the brain connected with creativity. Thank you for this thought-provoking blog.

    • Thank you for giving so much thought to your comment. It is a fascinating subject and what drew me to study,earning online. Where there is harm: obessive and compulsive behaviour online this would have manifested itself in other ways before the Internet and video games.

      Where I am concerned is how more stwtic kids are. I teach and coach swimming for a few hours every week and over the last ten years the kids we find come to club swimming later, some are obese so will not progress fast or far, they are more likely to skip classes too. Lack of fitness means they may do little other exercise than their weekly lesson. Of course eating horrible levels of sugar doesn’t help.

      • Penelope Bell says:

        Very true. When I was doing the assignment this occurred to me as well. I wouldn’t count myself as an athletic child but a friend and I went swimming every Saturday morning and on holidays in the Lake District (cottage miles away from shops, no electricity, no piped water) the time was spent sliding down the fells, fetching water from the beck, haymaking, walking everywhere. Times have changed!

  2. Scree jumping. The Lakes weren’t holidays, I lived in the Eden Valley and went to school surrounded by fells. I particularly loved to wander along the side of becks, deep in ravines exploring.

    • Penelope Bell says:

      Parents married in Ravenglass. I was born in Whitehaven – I believe the hospital is now a geriatric home! Grew up in Ponteland (before it became the haunt of sports stars and career criminals) near Newcastle on Tyne but had relatives near Dale Bottom, out of Keswick. I think I was very lucky to have such experiences. Until recently I was in touch with a distant cousin in Alston but sadly she died last year so the connections are loosening. But I think the North never leaves your blood! I remember vividly the screes at Wastwater but never tackled them! There are similar ones in the Southern Alps but pretty well inaccessible. Although children these days seem to have a great many consumer items I think they miss out on a lot.

  3. Born in Gosforth, but parents divorced and my father moved to Appleby.

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