chapter  15
10 Pages

To play or to parent? An analysis of the adult–child interaction in make- believe play


The universal nature of make-believe games provides a fertile environment for an analysis of childhood playgrounds. For example, the game of House – a roleplaying activity that centres on the mimicking of domestic duties – requires one player to portray a role, perhaps that of the ‘chef ’, and another to portray a complementary role, perhaps that of the ‘eater’.1 Constant engagement and communication between these players is necessary for the creation and continuation of the game. When both players in the game of House are children, the motivations, perspectives and attitudes towards the activity are relatively consistent. Each roleplayer pretends to be someone else while in some sense executing common domestic practices in an enjoyable fashion. However, the interjection of adult participation into a child’s imaginary playground might entail some complexity. The nature of the game may change. While the child may take the lead role in ‘cooking’ this meal and the parent may support the illusion by ‘eating’ it, the parent has an obligation that trumps the activity in some notable ways – a parent is always a parent, and certain cultural expectations related to the child’s proper growth and development warrant constant consideration in this ‘real-life’ role. The obligation of the parent as parent is imminent in the activity, since both parent and child recognize that the former has the ability to take control of the game’s content and direction – or even end the game – at any time. How does this de facto parental role during participation in children’s games affect the play of either the adult or the child? What ethical tensions exist? What follows is an analysis of the adult-child engagement and interaction in the game of House, specifically related to kitchen and culinary behaviour. We will begin by situating the nature of make-believe play within the literature of well-known play scholars (Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois and Bernard Suits) and highlight its qualities when the participants are not all children. We will then address ethical considerations for adults as they juggle the play-role of ‘eater’ and the ever-present responsibilities as ‘parent’ during the game of House. By doing so, we will show that significant ethical tensions and ambiguities confront the parent who participates in the child’s imaginary world.