First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Thu Apr 14 2005 - 12:05:27 PDT

Robert Lecusay is having difficulty posting to XMCA (will these gremlins
give up the ghost and stop playing with us!!!*&&*&*#$ who-is-at %#!!!). So I get to
(he he) be the portage guy today.

Here are the notes from the first session. We are still working at getting
relevant articles posted on xmca.

Play worlds Meeting at LCHC
April 11, 2004

Sonja Baumer Presenting
Lindqvist The Aesthetics of Play (Chpts. 3-5)
Elkonin The Psychology of Play (Appendix)

Present: Mike Cole, Deborah Wilson, Elaine Parent, Virginia Gordon,
Xavier, Beth Ferholt, Kristen Clark, Sonja Baumer, Kelli Moore, Robert
Lecusay, Christian Simmoneti, Lars Rossen, Neils Pederson, Koichi Haishi,
Don Schumman.

Sonja began by asking everyone at the meeting to write on a piece of paper
their intuitive definition of play. She collected these and read some,
noting that some people defined play in terms of their own experience,
others negatively as the opposite of work, and others in terms of
suspension of disbelief. Here are some samples:

"embodiment of imagination"
"the absence of stress, fun"
"free departure from everyday life"
"freedom, enjoyment, pleasure"
"unconscious, fictional, pretense"
"informal setting, another reality, lack of incentives"
"separation from everyday reality."

Sonja defined play as a state of mind, an experience.

Mike asked about the difference between games and play, to which Sonja
responded with a comparison of Piaget and Vygostky's ideas. Unlike play,
Piaget saw games as rule-bound. Vygotsky, on the other hand, viewed games
as another stage in the development of play humans enact scripts that
pertain to stereotypes and narratives of a particular character role.
Sonja concluded by defining games as characterized by explicit rules and
implicit imaginary situations, play by implicit rules, and explicit
imaginary situations.

Deborah asked about the progression of puppy play (which seemed to have no
mental element) to play that did involve some kind of mental element (play
with humor)

Sonja responded by highlighting an example from Bateson's What is Play?
(to be posted on XMCA): Chimps giving eye signals that communicate that
their biting is playful biting. This is a paradoxical frame in which the
playful bite stands for a bite but does not denote pain.

Mike brought up Burke's "Dramatic No" (Being Human)

Sonja continued by talking about historical changes in the perceived value
of play, noting that with the emergence of capitalism, play came to be
associated with childishness , whereas before (e.g. medieval), play was a
privileged activity for adults.

Mike asked what the difference was between rules and a frame. What about
peek-a-boo? Is it play?
Sonja argued that there are some rules, expectations that are non-verbally
negotiated in peek-a-boo.

Mike told the story of a girl (participant at the Fifth Dimension) who
engages in elaborate and spontaneous pretend play that reflects her
difficult situation at home.

Deborah asked if in play, the back and forth between emotional and
intellectual states was engaged in order to eventually gain a clear
definition of each state.

Mike then discussed instances in which adults could be put in positions
where they were uncertain about the reality of the moment (Alfred
Schutz?). He continued by asking, "What is it that allows people to create
and work with certain frames?" Then offered two examples: a memory of his
son playing a fantasy baseball game (not an actual game, but the
recreation of specific moments of a game, playing the parts of specific
ball players), and an anecdote about a time in U.S. baseball history when
travel was such that teams couldn't travel around as much as they do
today, and so radio reenactments of the games were staged (the issue of a
fully engaged audience).

Sonja added the example of radio audiences writing letters to characters
asking for advice (e.g. asking the character of a doctor for medical
advice). Mike brought up an example of a soap opera viewer who physically
attacked an actress from the show because of the evil things she had done
on the show. Sonja: "How are people seduced into acting these ways?"

Beth, returning to the example of a person writing for medical advice to
someone who plays the character of a doctor, said that part of the healing
process for people is grounded in the trust one develops for the doctor.
She went on to highlight similar examples from the Narnia play world.

Kelli argued that in this situation of audience-actor, the actor, who is
also engaging in play, is also actually learning something when he/she,
for example, researches his/her part. She brought up the example of a TV
actor who when interviewed said that he found himself able to answer
medical questions from fans.

Mike: this brings up the question of imitation

Sonja brought up Stanislavsky: the notion that when trying to act out an
emotion, one needs to locate that emotion in oneself (a personal memory
that causes one to re-experience the emotion). In light of this, Sonja
noted that it was not chance that she plays the role shoe does in the
Narnia play world. Mike noted the Eisentstein, Stan, Vygotsky were all

Mike next discussed transition phenomena kids who are beginning to
engage in games with rules. He offered an example of a kid playing pool in
the Fifth Dimension who created new rules within the rules of the game
that were to his advantage (e.g. yelling "Chancies!" gives one the
opportunity to take another turn).
Sonja spoke about the relationship between imagination and thought,
highlighting Vygotsky's notion (discussed in Lindqvist's article) that
adults have more imagination than kids as a consequence of the fact that
they have had more experiences than kids, and thus have more resources to
draw on. Sonja argued that the research does not support this.

Next Mike introduced the Russian term voobrazhenie (into image making)
as a lead-in to a discussion about the necessity of separation from the
world in order to have an experience of contrast, and therefore the
possibility of being able to anticipate what happens next (see Cole and
Levitin (1998) A Cultural Historical View of Human Nature,<>

Sonja and Mike: Imagination is a cognitive tool that allows us to maintain
the illusion of continuity.

Sonja: Play helps maintain an illusion of unpredictability, but enacted in
a safe space.

Mike: Reality and fantasy are present all the time. This ties into the
value of moments of disruption (Yrjo Engestrom)

Kristen: Returned to the issue of the difference in the capacity for
imagination between adults and kids, adults having more experience than
kids with social and cultural texts.

Mike: Listed some potential areas for future play discussions: rules &
frame, ritual, hyperreality (Baudrillard), Stanislavsky,

Deborah: Do autistic individuals play?

Sonja: High functioning individuals do.

Then there was debate (stemming from an anecdote of a Kid at the Fifth
Dimension) over whether Asperger's Syndrome is high functioning or low
functioning . . .


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