I think, not everyone leaves pretend play behind in childhood.
There’s no special day when you’re a kid and you sit down to a meeting with all your play-pretend selves and say, “I’m sorry but I have to let you go… There’ll be no more dressing up and pretending to be you unless I go to a costume party and get really drunk. And even then I’ll pretend not to know you in the morning… Sorry.”
When we are children, we have licence to pretend play as whomever we like in public without stigma. For children, this is considered a normal developmental behaviour and parents would probably be concerned if their children didn’t play.
As we grow up our pretend play as imaginative character personae seems to fade unceremoniously from our day-to-day existence. It becomes something left behind in childhood; a happy memory of freedom to fantasize and have fun. I tentatively venture, however, that our pretend play might not completely fade away, but rather slips discretely behind closed doors, existing in private during our adult lives.
Others have documented that in adulthood we are weighed down with negative stigma associated with play, and we channel our desire to play instead through private internalised fantasy and/or public membership to clubs which legitimise our play as something “adult” and “serious”(Huizinga 1949; Blatner and Blatner 1988; Singer 1995; Goncu and Perone 2005).
But maybe this isn’t always the case…
I’ve wondered; in adulthood do we ever pretend to be someone or something else when we’re alone? Are we rock stars in the car? In the shower do we practice magical hexes and curses learned at Hogwarts? Is there someone out there who reads my wonderings and squirms nervously in their chair because I’ve uncovered their secret pleasure?
For me, playing pretend hasn’t completely faded away as I’ve matured and I don’t think that I’m alone in saying that. As I actively consider it, I can trace back through parts of my life etched in my memory and see that personae which I’ve played, either in public as a child or in private as a teenager and young adult, reflect some of my personal desires at the time.
For example, in my early teens I played as a Dolly cover model (remember Dolly? aww smiley face), a talented contemporary dance artist, and a pop star. This all happened in my room with the door shut and the music blasting. Like many high school girls I wanted to look beautiful like Miranda Kerr on the cover of Dolly. I fantasised about being rich and famous for some incredible artistic talent, without the hard work attached.
Other examples are my mix of celebrity chefs who cook my dinner now and again. Sometimes my celebrity chef persona echoes Nigela Lawson, sometimes Jamie Oliver, sometimes Heston… but never Gordon Ramsey. Influenced by the popularity of cooking shows over the last 10 years or so, these playful kitchen moments might express a desire to make cooking dinner an exciting and glamorous task, rather than a laborious daily chore. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been creative enough to invent a celebrity dish washing persona.
Over the years I’ve indulged in private pretend play as Hermione Granger, Catniss Evergreen, Catwoman, and Gemma Teller (Yes, I like the ones with attitude, magic powers, tight leather, and guns). Usually people generally perceive me as a quiet, rather anxious, normative young woman, but there is a part of me that wishes my first impressions were more like the TV & Film characters mentioned above.
One of my big hang ups is the way I think strangers read me based on the way I look. I often fantasise that my outer appearance was more bold, more intimidating. I think about being taller, less blonde and looking my age.
Playing pretend in private has become a habit of mine in adulthood. I grant that it’s not always positive and I’ll get into that in future posts.
BUT, from some brief probing of my close friends I started to think that I wasn’t the only one who imagines themselves as someone else and is tempted to play it out in private.
- Please share your stories of private pretend play.
- Please share your opinions of pretend play from childhood into adulthood.
Blatner, A. and A. Blatner (1988). The Art of Play: An Adult’s Guide to Reclaiming Imagination and Spontaneity. New York, Human Sciences Press, Inc.
Goncu, A. and A. Perone (2005). “Pretend Play as a Life-Span Activity ” Topoi 24: 137-147.
Huizinga, J. (1949). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. London, Routledge.
Singer, J. L. (1995). Imaginative Play in Childhood: Precursor for Subjunctive Throughts, Daydreaming, and Adult Pretending Games. The Future of Play Theory: A Multidisciplinary Inquiry into the Contributions of Brian Sutton-Smith. A. D. Pellegrini. New York, State University of New York Press.