Child's play

Children play. They act as if life were one continuous game.

This is not a unique observation. Watch a child or group of children ages 2 to 7 when no adult is around. If they are decently fed, healthy, and safe, their whole being focuses on the fun at hand. It is a delight to behold, and a state of mind easily coveted.

Anthropologists note that playing is a way children discover their world, interact with it, in effect, gain some dominion over the vastness of life.

And at these early ages, competition has not stuck its nose under the tent of childhood.

The difference between children's games and adult's games is the role of competition. More in the latter; less in the former.

One of the many satisfactions games offer adults is a world where the rules are set and they are fair to everyone invovled. No matter how fierce the competition, the outcome is predicated on playing by the rules (something not always found in the workaday world).

Amateur and professional competition add another dimension to play. The danger in contemporary America is that the values of professional sport, with its unrelenting demand for excellence - and victory - tarnish the way we play. Winning takes on too much importance. It isn't everything, it's the only thing. This is an adult value, a learned value to protect children from.

In our cover story (right), Mary Wiltenburg explores noncompetitive computer gaming for adults, played (more by women than men) so as to allow the gamers to discover their world, their values, and themselves. There is no winner-take-all mentality here. The player takes all.

Nice game. Have fun.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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