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?