RE: First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

From: David Preiss (
Date: Fri Apr 15 2005 - 06:44:34 PDT

There was XMCA activity the last few days? I haven't gotten anything.
David Preiss


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-----Original Message-----
From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane []
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2005 12:56 AM
Cc: Xmca
Subject: Re: First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

Hm!! With an exclamation mark! I feel like seeing a frozen picture of
your workshop which I have to warm up in some places in order to insert
my remarks and comments and in that way try to become a part of the
discussion. I will insert my remarks directly into the text of the
workshop notes into the places where I think these comments belong. I
will separate them from the rest of the text visually in three ways, so
that even if you get only text (ASCII) e-mail you will be able to see my
notes). So, please scroll down:

Mike Cole wrote:

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
(he he) be the portage guy today.

Here are the notes from the first session. We are still working at
getting more
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
Don Schumman.

Sonja began by asking everyone at the meeting to write on a piece of
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
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.

We can look at this relationship in another way -- using the CHAT model
(famous triangles). In order to do that, let me just briefly re-describe
that model: there is a small triangle in the center, that describes
relationships between the Subject (individual), the Community (or the
others to which the Subject relates) and the Object (which for this
purpose we should view as "the material reality of the world"). The
bigger (outer) triangle represents three meta-relationships or functions
that mediate the three basic relationships. Tools/Symbols mediate
relationships between the Subject and the world (of material objects);
Rules mediate relationships between Subject and the Community/Others and
Division of Labor mediates the ways Community relates to the World of
material objects.
I look at play-like-activities - ** I want here to broaden the meaning
of the concept of PLAY** - as activities of creating these
meta-relationships. Hence you have Pretend Play -- as play-like-activity
of creating ROLES (division of labor). You have Games -- as
play-like-activities of creating and exploring rules, making rules,
using rules, bending rules, testing rules etc. And - the third category
of play-like-activities are those that create and explore Tools/Symbols:
Play with words, play with various building blocks, Lego blocks,
tinker-toys, e.g. tools that manipulate the physical world.

BUT -- in each category of these various play-like-activities you have
embedded all the relationships and aspects of the activity systems:
pretend play may be an exploration of the roles (division of labor), but
it is also about the rules, only the rules are not the in the immediate
focus of play. The games, although they are primarily about rules,
cannot be imagined without an imaginary situation in which these rules
are created, and without the roles that are assumed by players. And,
lastly, play with language / tools, always also contains negotiating
rules and exploring the division of labor.
So I would say, that play-like-activities are activities which, in
contrast to the "for real" activities, are not aimed at an
object-objective; instead, they are activities of creating and exploring
the very meta relationships between the subject, the community and the
material world (object).

Deborah asked about the progression of puppy play (which seemed to have
mental element) to play that did involve some kind of mental element
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.

Bateson's example is interesting and important because it discusses the
relationship between the tools used to create the play and the topic of
play. This is a complex example which needs sorting out: "play frame"
from "reality frame" and what does it mean that an object stands for
another object or an act stands for another act: i.e. what does it mean
to "stand for". Bateson called "frames" -- being in the play frame is
signaled -- or you cannot create the play frame: dogs signal to other
dogs that they are going to "play bite them" and not really bite them.
If another dog does not see the signal -- it may bite back for real.
People need to signal "this is play" in order to create the play frame.
Little lower (or later) Mike asked what is the relationship between the
rules and the frame. They are connected. The framing activities
(signals) create a "switch" or a "portal" into the play-modus. The rules
are different in the play frame from the rules outside and that has to
be signaled, or there will be no play but just misunderstanding.
An interesting issue for the research is what are all the different the
ways to create the play frame. (Think of the Wardrobe!!!)

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

Mike, can you elaborate (or just give me a reference: I need to refresh
my Burke knowledge)

Sonja continued by talking about historical changes in the perceived
of play, noting that with the emergence of capitalism, play came to be
associated with childishness , whereas before (e.g. medieval), play was
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
negotiated in peek-a-boo.

I think that Peek-a-boo is a game that belongs to very beginning of
introducing very little infants into the code switching or creating a
play frame. It is an activity which is clearly not a goal directed
activity, but instead is changing the rules of perception; it is also
about creating different relationships between the infant and the person
who is initiating the game - changing the rules of "normal" behavior and
relationships; and a game of creating definite roles that players can
assume. I think that we have to go back and study different
"peek-a-boo"-ish games around the world.

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.

Deborah, could you elaborate on "the back and forth between emotional
and intellectual states"?? What did you have in mind when you called
them an "emotional state" or an "intellectual state"? I think you are
onto something important here, but I am not certain what.

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
and work with certain frames?" Then offered two examples: a memory of
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
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
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
attacked an actress from the show because of the evil things she had
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
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.

This and some previous examples are the issues of the relationship
between the play frame and the reality frame and their interaction. What
can do we take into the play frame -- from the reality frame? What do we
take back from the play frame into the reality frame? How do we cross
between them? What are the "good" crossings over (an actor learning
something in researching a character) and what are the "errors" (writing
letters to a doctor in a play/ TV series as if to a real one?)

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
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
draw on. Sonja argued that the research does not support this.

Next Mike introduced the Russian term voobrazhenie (into - image -
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
the illusion of continuity.

Sonja: Play helps maintain an illusion of unpredictability, but enacted
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?

A very interesting article in the newest Discover Magazine :

What Do Animals Think? Temple Grandin says animals think like autistic
humans. She should know.

(I am sending a link to the on line article in a separate e-mail)

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 . . .


This discussion is VERY productive and already covers miles and miles of
concepts that have to be carefully rethought. I am very excited about
it. Can't wait to get the films and watch them too.
It is almost 1:00 am on the east coast in Montreal. I must get up early
for another fascinating session of AERA. So good night.


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