games, children's

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

games, children's

children's games, amusements or pastimes involving more than one child and in which there is some sort of formalized dramatic element, contest, or plot. Games are a cultural universal; for example, the string play called Cat's Cradle is common to cultures as varied as Eskimo, Australian, and African. Games differ from the serious pursuits of life in several ways: they are played according to tacit or explicit rules, and they are performed within a context that defines them as games (e.g., tin soldiers, house and marriage games, racing) although they may be derived from and imitative of everyday living. Because the rules vary from place to place, comparable game types are often difficult to identify precisely. Most common are contest games, in which players vie, either as individuals or as team members, to see who is best at a given activity. Such dissimilar games as I Spy, Bombardment, Red Rover, baseball, rope-jumping, tag, charades, and "Last one to the corner is a rotten egg" are all in the contest category. Amusements with predictable outcomes such as the Farmer in the Dell, often classified as games, resemble games but are considered to be children's folk drama. Game classification has been the subject of frequent and profound investigation. Among the foremost researchers in this field are the Americans Iona and Peter Opie. Some of the many types defined are games of dexterity, games of chance, showdown games, tug-of-war games, and games requiring specialized materials (jacks, marbles, mumblety-peg, dice). However, no generally useful system of classification has yet been devised. In many—if not all—cultures, formalized child's play provides a training ground where the child learns skills useful to him in later life, a counterpart to the play-training of young animals. Considerable controversy exists as to whether children's games have been to a great extent influenced by adults or whether they are passed independently from one generation of children to another. The importance of related variants and how they are transmitted are further continuing puzzles. It seems likely that complex games are developed locally from simple basic elements that have been widely diffused. Games reflect the social, economic, religious, and artistic life of the culture from which they develop and have, themselves, become an intrinsic part of human existence.

See I. and P. Opie, Children's Games in Street and Playground (1969); A. Milberg, Street Games (1976); G. Chanan and H. Francis, Toys and Games of Children of the World (1985); V. Sernaque, The Classic Children's Games (1988).

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