Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The Experience of Playing Chase


I watch as three-year-old Emma moves from her quiet spot on the floor, where she has been watching television, and stands in the space between the chesterfield and chair. From the other side of the room, I can see the mischievous gleam in her eye. She grins widely and says, “Chase me, Daddy!” Even before he has had an opportunity to respond, she is already running and squealing with delight. The invitation to chase is not one that he can refuse easily. “I’m going to get you!” he announces, leaping from his chair. His response results in even louder shrieks of anticipation. The chase ensues for several minutes before she is finally captured. In the moment just before his hands grab her, she dissolves into giggles and wild shrieks – all in anticipation of being captured. Once caught, though, she is already wiggling and struggling to be free again. Her father knows the routine and he is careful not to hold her too long. The instant he releases her, a new chase begins. She runs away to the centre of the room, checking over her shoulder to ensure that her father is following after. He moves closer and closer, this time crawling on his hands and knees. With each movement that he draws nearer, Emily’s excitement builds and then explodes just as she is captured into the safety of her father’s arms. (personal observation)

Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize this game? Who hasn’t either played it or watched it being played? This is a young child playing chase. Yet as I watch the interaction unfold, I wonder, what is it that compels her to play? What does she feel? She seems to want to play the game over and over. Who will decide when the game should end? Most likely her father, I think. Emma never seems to tire of being pursued. What is it that captivates her, though? I listen to her shrieks of anticipation. They are like a crescendo that builds to the moment of her inevitable capture. It is evident that this game is fun. But what is it about being chased or captured that children find so enjoyable? From what are they running?

Establishing the Rules of the Game

As children grow older, the rules for playing chase become more explicit and the game is less spontaneous than the one played by Emily and her father. In games of chase among older children, the rules of everyday life are replaced – within a fixed space and for a given time – by specific game rules that must by accepted and followed by each of the players (Stone, 1989). Most games of chase typically begin with establishing the rules of play.

Here is what chase the game is all about. You can have as many players as possible. You can chase boys or girls. The idea of the game is to catch the boys or girls. You have a dungeon to put them in after you’ve caught them. Then after you’ve caught them all, they have to chase you and your friends. There are only two rules after being put in the dungeon. You cannot get out unless someone rescues you. The other rule is there are no times. Anyone can play this game. (Jodi, Age 8)

In describing what chase the game is all about, Jodi explains that if you get caught, you will be placed in the “dungeon.” Once in the dungeon, “you cannot get out unless someone rescues you.” She also emphasizes that there are “no times.” This means that in the midst of being chased, you cannot suddenly say “times” as a way of freezing time in the game to avoid being caught. “Times” is reserved for emergency situations such as an injury. These rules of playing chase are usually implicit or established before the game begins.

The rules, though, are always arbitrary because it is only in play that a child would agree to be put into a “dungeon.” When you are held captive by your friends, by players with whom you are familiar, you know that you are free to leave at any time. At any point you can choose freedom by exchanging the reality of play for the reality of everyday by saying, “I’m not playing anymore!” This is a universal rule that officially places you back into “ordinary life.” Being held prisoner by a stranger would of course be a very different experience. In this situation, there is no assurance that someone who cares about you can see you and will eventually rescue you. Having trust in the person who holds you captive is one of the tacit rules of playing chase.

It is also important to know implicitly that you will be rescued. Your friends can see you in the dungeon; they know where you are. They care about you and are willing to risk their own “freedom” in an attempt to save you from captivity. For the child who is rescued, it is confirmation of his or her acceptance and value within a circle of friends. But imagine the child who remains in the dungeon, who no one attempts to rescue. This would be a very different experience. It would seem as though you have been abandoned; left entirely on your own. You would feel alone, like you are not even part of the game. After being left in the dungeon, some children may protest: “Marcel only tries to rescue Michael and Sara, he never tries to rescue me!”

The place where chase is played is also a critical aspect of establishing the rules of the game. Structures and objects in the environment become important depending upon the use children intend to make of them (Barritt, Beekman, Bleeker, & Mulderij, 1983).

One of our favourite places to play chase was in an old widower’s yard. One side of his yard bordered a street and was unique in the neighbourhood because it had a row of large elm trees (perhaps 10 or 12, spaced about six feet apart) that ran along the street. That portion of the yard that extended from the trees to the street was also sloped along its entire length, creating a gentle hill down which we would sometimes roll. As children we prized this yard because of the many ways in which the trees could be used to create and play various games. When we played chase, the elm trees were often used as places to hide but we also hid behind the garage and the clothes line stand, and in the tall shrubs surrounding the garden. (Simon, Age 37)

To passersby, this yard is just a yard. It has elm trees like many other yards along the street, a garage, a clothesline stand, a garden. But to the children who play chase here, these objects have a different purpose. At the beginning of the game, everyone agrees that “you can hide behind the trees, the garage, or the clothes line stand but you can’t go out of the yard because that’s out-of-bounds.”

For other children, it is the schoolyard where games of chase are played. Here, children establish rules that allow them to strategically use school buildings and objects in the schoolyard in the hope of escaping being caught.

We scatter all around the yard. Some use the outbuildings of the school as a barrier. As the person who was “it” came around one side, he could strategically move around the other side, using the windows to keep track of who was it. (Nigel, Age 25)

The chaser, however, can also use these structures to enclose the one being pursued, as in these accounts:

Because he can’t tag his butcher, the boy who is it runs off after Shawn. He trees him up a slide and they are at an impasse. But Shawn is fast and cunning and he has probably studied the playground. He is an expert at going the wrong way up slides and he’s famous for dropping from great heights to free himself, which he does now, over the side of the slide. (Anne, Age 38)

One time, when I was playing tag with some of my friends, I had just been tagged and I was chasing my best friend, David. He jumped up onto the monkey bars because he knew that I would have trouble reaching them. But I jumped anyway. I didn’t get the monkey bars but I did tag him. David was it now and I was the closest one to him. I knew I was his next victim. I ran as hard as I could, my heart was pounding and I turned around to see where he was and I saw him trip – I had escaped him once again. (Wesley, Age 12).

In both of these playground games of chase, the children use the equipment in a strategic attempt to maintain their freedom. But some of the other rules of play are often unique to time and place. In the first account, Anne explains that “you can’t tag your butcher,” meaning that you cannot tag whoever just tagged you. In the second account, David “sizes up” his opponent, who is much shorter than the other players, and tries to use the height of the monkey bars to his own advantages. There are no rules against using the playground equipment to escape your pursuer. Regardless of how children choose to play the game, when a new player joins a game, the other players must take the time to ensure that he or she knows the established boundaries and rules.

Children are often scouting out new places to play chase. When they pass by an abandoned field or a renovated playground, they may not be thinking “Oh look at the long grass in that field.” Or, “There are three new swings.” Instead, they may see the possibilities for playing chase, “Hiding in the long grass would be great fun.” Or, “Under that new slide would be the perfect spot for escaping next time we play chase.” Adults need to remember how children see the world and to observe how they make use of hiding spaces and structures in their environment.

Being Seen

The young baby sees his mother’s fingers wiggling playfully in front of him. He smiles in anticipation and begins to laugh. Her hands get closer and closer, her fingers wiggling faster and faster until suddenly, they are tickling the baby. He is caught. He laughs but then squirms and pushes her hands away. Then he waits with delight to see her fingers before him, wiggling again. (personal observation)

The stimulation and reassurance of his mother’s familiar and loving touch is an important part of this game of chase. But for this little baby, who is not yet able to run about, seeing and being seen is perhaps the greatest joy of the game. Babies often actively seek to receive the special interest from someone’s eyes (Barritt et al., 1983). Being seen is a stimulant for babies and quickly becomes a source of pleasure. They love to look at faces with eyes that respond and recognize. This baby seems to want to be seen and caught by his mother’s eyes. Even being caught by the eyes of a stranger can be a source of delight for young children.

I sit about 15 feet from a small table where a mother sits with a small child, about a year old, on her lap. I watch him wriggle around; he stands up now, looks over his mother’s shoulder, all around. Suddenly, he sees that I look at him. He disappears completely clinging to his mother’s breast. She is talking to someone but she puts her arm around him and holds him tighter. After only a few seconds his head reappears and he looks carefully (the eyes just above the mother’s shoulder) at me. I laugh and see his eyes laugh and at that moment he ducks away again. Now he comes back again and with eyes wide open he gives me a triumphant laughing look. So, I make my eyes bigger. Exuberant laughter and head shaking follows. He does this about 10 times until other people pass between us and he no longer sees me. (Barritt et al., 1983, p. 143)

Peekaboo is, in many ways, a game of chase for very small children. The child in this scenario looks about anonymously and suddenly realizes that he has been “caught” by the eyes of a stranger. What does the child’s response to being seen by the adult tell us about the nature of our interactions with children? How does the game of chase create an opportunity for us to communicate our concern for children in our lives? Think again of the chase episode involving Emma and her father. Emma requests, “Chase me, Daddy!” How can her father refuse this invitation to join her world of play? He sees her and recognizes that he has an opportunity to bring joy to his child and show his love. It seems that for Emma, the height of the game is being seen by her father and knowing that she is important enough for him to try to catch. Consider, by way of contrast, the situation created if he had refused to play and had continued reading his paper instead.

For older children, being seen is also an important aspect of playing chase. “‘We’re playing tag,’ offers Shawn, ‘Playground only – off the sand and you’re out. I’m it!’ he calls, and we scatter.” All players must now be “on the lookout.” Will you be “seen” first by the one who is it? Will you be chosen for the chase? How do you know that you are now the object of the chase? Do you feel the presence of the one who is it? Or is it a mutual seeing in which you see that the chaser sees you?

Deposited and dizzy, I resolve first to chase Jeannie, to be polite, and then Shawn for sisterly revenge, but then, to be fair I have to tag the whiny little boy who is still calling in a lonely voice “Nobody chases MEEEE…!” Once tagged, he runs and reaches out to grab anyone nearby. He has no method or plan and does not succeed. Just when we all worry he will burst into tears, he tags Allison Jill who has forgotten about the game and is under the slide making a sand house. He leaps away as if her three-year-old body posed a real threat. I don’t like this boy; he doesn’t know the rules. You don’t tag “the smallest one” unless you stick around for her to catch you. Allison Jill emerges howling from her sand house and we all instinctively come nearer to comfort her pride and compete for the honour of being chased by “the littlest one.” We vie for her attention and pretend to be fleeing swiftly as we take our running baby steps saying “Oh! Oh! gonna get me! gonna get me!” Her big sister, Jeannie, is gleefully tagged, and so wins, for the moment. (Anne, Age 38)

“Being seen” by the other seems to be one of the most important aspects of the game. In the episode described above, Anne “sees” both Jeannie and Shawn because she has chosen to chase them. Anne knows how important it is to consider the other before she chooses who to chase. She knows that she needs to show Jeannie that she cares about her, that she sees her for who she is. When Jeannie was it, she made an attempt to catch Anne, “even though Anne is three years older, craftier, prouder.” Jeannie can’t possibly catch Anne but she knows that “an attempt must be made because we’re friends.” Anne chases Jeannie now “to be polite,” to reassure her that she does matter, even though she’s younger, slower. Anne, of course, must also try to catch Shawn – not because she can catch him, she knows she can’t – but because he is her brother. Engaging in the chase, making an effort to try to catch someone else, communicates to children that they are an important part of the world, that they are connected to others who care about them and who see them for who they are.

For the “little whiny boy,” though, it is as if he is invisible. He calls in a lonely voice to the others, “Nobody chases MEEEE!” He wants to be part of the game, to be seen as important enough to chase, important enough to try to catch. He sees others but no one seems to see him. “To be fair,” Anne chases him. Once tagged, though, he is overwhelmed. Perhaps all at once he sees everyone and sees no one. One gets the sense that he is unsure of who to tag; unsure of who would want to be tagged by him. The boy unwittingly tags the youngest child, not knowing that “you don’t tag the smallest one unless you stick around for her to catch you.” The others are careful to let the youngest player know that they want to be seen by her, that they would be proud to have her tag them. Anne also points out that, “it is just as important to be tagged by the biggest as by the littlest.”

He knows his role as a big person, he kindly chases each one in turn, in spurts, just to let us know we are important. Each of us screams and grins in terror. When he settles on me, I run, desperate and desperately happy, knowing that I am the MOST important because a big person is giving me all his attention. I will get caught but it’s OK because when a big person catches you it doesn’t mean you’re a slow-poke, it just means he likes you best, for that moment. You don’t LOSE when a big person tags you, you WIN. (Anne, Age 38)

Unlike the “invisible” little boy who complains that no one tries to catch him, some players have special status in games of chase. In the game described by Anne, being chased by either the youngest or the oldest players creates a sense of pride for the other children. For children who do not seem to have special status, though, the game may reinforce their feelings of isolation or abandonment. All children need to feel that they are part of the game, that they matter to the other players. “Being seen,” being chosen for the chase, seems to communicate to children that they are liked and accepted. They are seen for who they are. They know that someone cares enough to chase them, to try to catch them. In some ways, being an active participant in games of chase may reassure children of the caring presence of others in the world.

The Thrill of the Chase

Mark is quietly playing on the floor while his mom is reading a magazine. But the little boy has begun to crawl speedily toward the door while chuckling with pleasure. Then he stops, sits up, and looks at his mother who casts a furtive glance. The next moment Mark is back on all fours and now his movements are even faster while his laughter turns into an excited panting. Mark stops again and looks back at his mom. The excitement is impossible to ignore and mother tears herself out of her reading and proceeds noisily and playfully into the direction of Mark. The chase is now fully on! And Mark is getting beyond himself with excitement, so that his laughter turns into high pitched screams. “I’ll get you! I’ll get you!” laughs Mom and stamps her feet and claps her hands. Mark can hardly control himself. His delighted laughter virtually immobilizes him and instead of crawling faster his limbs now move awkwardly and slowly. He just cannot get away from his mother – who’ll grab him in her next move. And then she fetches him and pulls him into a playful embrace. “I gotch’a!” This is all too much and the little boy shrieks with pure exaltation. It’s good that Mom’s kisses are so sweet because one gets the uncanny feeling that Mark’s joyful excitement could have climaxed into a confused crying bout. Some more hugging and face-rubbing in Mom’s hair and Mark is back on the floor. Mom sits down but she leaves the magazine alone. She knows the next “come and get me” is only a few seconds away. (van Manen, 1982, pp. 292-293)

In his efforts to explore the world just beyond his mother’s reach, is this young child making a first attempt at taking a risk in the unknown world? Mark’s playful attempts to escape from his mother generate an intense excitement about the possibility of getting away. But does he really want to get away? His delight in being caught up in his mother’s warm embrace would seem to suggest that he wants to be caught. Children first experience the world as helpless beings. Their explorations of their physical and social world are a movement away from helplessness toward independence. Perhaps it is this tension between security and risk that entices children into games of chase. Vandenberg (1971) reminds us that

because the safety of the world stands between a child’s helplessness and his explorations, the child’s access to the world exists through the help that others give him in establishing the safety of his world: he is cut off from his world unless he is helped. Authentic expansion of the child’s world depends upon adults who are responsible for him, for if they engineer the safety of the world in proportion to his helplessness, they free him to explore an inviting world. (p. 84)

Within the context of playing chase, Mark knows that he is safe to explore his environment because his mother is nearby and responds to his unspoken requests for freedom and safety. It seems that older children also actively seek this tension between security and risk.

I feel an immediate sense of panic. I turn and begin to run along the row of trees – as quickly as my legs will take me. The sense of panic that I feel is soon accompanied by an acute tension in my body. As I run, I can feel him closing on me and this heightens the bodily tension that I am feeling. Soon, I sense that he is only a few feet behind me. I can hear the sounds of his running and breathing. Feeling him so close behind me fills me not only with tension but with a feeling of dread. I try, in vain, to expand the distance between us. I can feel the limits of my body as I try to push my legs to go faster. The sound of his running and breathing grows louder. He seems to be only a stride behind me. My dread and bodily tension increase as I brace myself for the inevitable slap of his hand on my back. I feel helpless to alter my fate. A few more strides and then, “Haaa, haaa! You’re it!” (Simon, Age 37)

In Simon’s account of being chased, he seems very aware of his body’s limitations and capabilities. Perhaps his sense of panic results from an implicit knowing that his body is not as capable as his pursuer’s. He can’t seem to run as fast, can’t seem to make his legs move quickly enough to escape. One can sense the tension Simon must have felt as the distance between his body and his friend’s decreased. He knows his pursuer is getting closer because the footsteps hitting the ground and the heavy inhaling and exhaling are getting louder. In chase, children learn to “size up” one another. They may look at the size and height of the other players’ bodies in relation to their own, try to estimate distances, and based on these practical assessments, attempt to determine their own chances of catching or escaping from another player (Barritt et al., 1983).

For some children, getting chased but not caught is the height of the game. When someone tries to catch you but doesn’t succeed, you know that you are a faster runner. Other children may try to get caught because they want to be it. For those who want to be it, catching others may provide an opportunity for them to demonstrate their bodies’ adeptness. Children who are easily caught and always in the position of being “it,” though, may feel that their bodies are less capable than many of the other players. In many ways, children’s explorations of their own bodies’ limitations and capabilities in chase may contribute to how they see themselves in the world.

The desire to explore and experience the unknown is a universal aspect of human existence. Including the element of make-believe in games of chase offers children countless possibilities for delving into the unknown. For Anne, being chased is an opportunity to pretend that she is flying: “I fly, there is again a flutter in my tummy and a whirl in my head, but now there is a scream in the back of my throat because I am Jack-falling-down-the-beanstalk with the giant at my heels.” She can feel her feet leave the ground. Her whole body is in the air and, for this moment, she lives in a world where her feet don’t touch the ground. She even tries to slow time down to make the sensation of “flying” last longer.

Jeannie runs and I run almost leisurely to make it last longer, to feel the joy of deep breaths and a pounding heart and oh! how wonderful that legs can take you over stumps and old tires and up ladders! I know she’s given up as I head up the ramp but why stop running? Why miss an excuse to fly over the other side and to pretend for one brief moment that you will never land? There’s a flutter in my tummy and a whirl in my head and I am Peter-Pan-flying-above-the-stars, and then I’m Jane and Michael and Mary Poppins having tea with Uncle Albert, having laughed our way up to the ceiling, and then I have to leave them at their tea and my breath is cut short as I land and quickly check round to see who was tagged while I was flying. (Anne, Age 38)

The possibilities for her to enter into other identities are seemingly endless. In one instance, she is Jack-falling-down-the-beanstalk; in the next, she is Peter-Pan-flying-above-the-stars. And it is through play that the child discovers that play is the freedom to step out of “‘real’ life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all its own” (Huizinga, 1950, p. 8). In the game situation above, being involved in the chase allows Anne to transcend her self, “to be utterly serious over, and preoccupied with, something other than one’s immediate and private interests” (Stone, 1989, p. 68). Similarly, in Alice in Wonderland, Alice temporarily forgets about her sister and thoughts of making a daisy chain, and allows curiosity to lure her into chasing a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole.

. . .when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, full of curiosity, she hurried across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In a moment, down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. (Carroll, 1964, p. 1)

Curiosity, a desire to discover who the White Rabbit is, entices Alice into a chase. To Alice, the chase seems to be a game, a way to find out where the rabbit is going in such a hurry. Clearly, the rabbit does not see Alice as a threat; in fact, it doesn’t seem to notice her at all. Consider how this situation might be different, though, if Alice were hunting the rabbit. Chase outside of the context of a game becomes a pursuit of a different sort. Although all chases involve a pursuit, when a chase is a hunt it has a very specific purpose. Hunting most typically involves the pursuit of something, especially an animal, for food or sport. Children know that a hunt is not a play situation because trust is replaced by fear and running becomes an issue of life and death survival. Perhaps this is how children may experience being chased by someone or something unknown. They feel as though they are being hunted because fun and enjoyment are not the purpose of the chase. When risk becomes too intense and there is no assurance of safety, chase can become a terrifying experience for children. Children need to know that within the intensity of games of chase, there is a mutual sense of trust between the one chasing and the one being chased.

The older boy makes a play for Uncle Gavin and we all laugh at the impossible. Our adult is tricky, he lets the boy get just close enough and then runs away. Finally, his cockiness is punished, he is fairly tagged and a scream goes up among us all. We feed gleefully on the idea that one of us is doomed. He chases me next to the “curvy-rocket-slide.” I can’t see through it and as I run around one side, I realize that he could be coming around to get me from the opposite direction. If he were Shawn or the others, I would have the presence of mind to be quiet and sneaky, but as it’s Uncle, I scream and scream without thinking that my hunter can clearly hear me and can easily detect which way I am coming round. Finally, panicked into self-induced hysteria and the thrill of the unknown, I freeze shrieking with giggles and happy frustration. I am caught up and swung round and I know the others are all jealous. (Anne, Age 38)

What Happens if You Get Caught?

Think again of the intensity Mark must have felt when he was caught in his mother’s embrace. We can almost feel his sense of safety and security. Mark’s mother seems to know exactly how to play the game. She is careful that when she chases her son, she gives him room in which to flee, although not so much room that she ignores his desire to be caught and to feel the reassurance of her presence. Is this how the small child experiences being caught, nestled in a mother’s embrace? What child doesn’t love being captured into the safety of a parent’s arms? Being chased and then caught allows the young child to explore independence within the safety of a parent’s reach (van Manen, 1982). Parent and child are both also showing that they need one another, that they cannot do without each other. Imagine how disappointing it would be for children if no one cared enough to try to catch them. “Being caught” seems to reassure children of their parent’s love and dependability.

Mark knows exactly what to expect when his mother catches him. He knows the routine and so does she. For older children, though, the outcome of playing chase – “What will happen if I get caught?” – is often unknown. Simon writes about a feeling of “dread and bodily tension” as he braces himself for the possibility of being caught. For this reason, play can be risky. Neither its course nor its result can be determined beforehand (Stone, 1989). Perhaps it is this element of wager, the fear of the unknown, that is one of the greatest charms of playing chase? When children enter into a game of chase, they must also be willing to risk being caught and drawn into the realm of the unknown.

My most vivid memories of playing chase involve times when it was played at dusk and, as the game progressed, in complete darkness. One’s limited ability to see lent an element of danger or “a fear of the unknown” that heightened my own and others’ excitement during the game. (Simon, Age 37)

When boys and girls enter into games of chase together, the unknown can often be the other sex. Chase provides an opportunity for boys to venture into the unknown world of girls and for girls to venture into the unknown world of boys. Discovering what the opposite sex is all about can often begin with explorations of kissing.

There were rumours, of course, that some of the “victims” who had been caught were, God forbid, kissed. Some, we were told, were kissed on the lips! I wondered what it would be like having a kiss? Hearts pounding, laughing, screaming, breathing heavily. (Marie, Age 49)

In this game, the chase results in being kissed. Marie wonders what it might be like to be caught and then kissed? Will it be thrilling? How will it feel? Risk seems to be an integral part of games of chase and regardless of how players play, they cannot be assured of the outcome of the game (Denzin, 1980). For this reason, playing chase can also be disappointing because the rewards of the game are not always forthcoming.

Strangely, if we manage to get too far away from the chaser, we slacken our efforts at escape and slow down a little, keeping just out of reach, close enough to fool the chaser into believing that he can catch us but far enough away that we can fool ourselves that we are still in control and out of reach. Secretly, I think some of us want to be caught. I remember the exhilaration of not being caught but I also remember that exhilaration being accompanied by a slight disappointment. (Marie, Age 49)

Is it Marie’s secret desire to be caught, the risk she seeks in being kissed, that compels her to play? She tries to fool the chaser into thinking that she doesn’t want to be caught. And of course she must be convincing because what would be the fun of chase if the chaser knew you were trying to be caught? But imagine this experience of playing chase for the child who doesn’t want to risk being caught, who doesn’t want to experience being kissed.

We were playing the game I feared, kiss and chase. Actually, it was chase then kiss. If you were caught by the girls (by the girls!), you would be kissed. This was the ultimate humiliation for me at the time. I can remember it was Emma who did the kissing. She was nice too, but I didn’t want to get caught. As she came towards me, I stopped struggling, it would have looked pathetic at this stage. She got closer. She was nearly there. She kissed me and. . . it was okay. After being caught, I was never as scared of the consequences. (Nigel, Age 25)

It seems that for Nigel, the consequence of being caught in this game of chase is overwhelming. He is forced to choose between not playing chase at all or playing chase and risking being caught and kissed. He chooses to take the risk and ventures into an unknown world in which he must face his fear of being kissed. Perhaps for this child, not playing and not being seen as courageous enough to risk being kissed is a greater threat to who this child is than the actual experience of being kissed. In this way, play may also expose, publish, and somehow expend the secret and the mysterious (Huizinga, 1950). Through the child’s experience of “being caught” in kiss and chase, play tends to remove the very nature of the mysterious.

The End of the Game

Play begins in one instance and is over in the next. With the sound of the recess bell, a parent calling from the doorstep of a house, or some players leaving, the game ends. The one who ends the game, “now becomes the one who breaks the spell, who brutally refuses to acquiesce in the proposed illusion” (Caillois, 1961, p. 8). At the end of the game, however, there always exists the possibility of starting over again at another time and place. In this sense, the game is always emergent because it builds upon itself and has a sense of history unique to its participants (Denzin, 1980). But the decision to repeat the game, to play something again, “is only urgent to the extent that the enjoyment of it makes it a need. Play can be deferred or suspended at any time” (Huizinga, 1950, p. 8). Anne, though, is already thinking about the possibilities for tomorrow’s game.

When the others are lured away by the adults’ temptations of hot dogs on sticks and the chance to eat food dropped on the ground, I remain behind in the late summer sun. I run and rerun the ramp and fly and refly over the side searching for Peter, Jane and Michael, and Jack. They are not there, but something else is. The ghost of an idea for tomorrow’s “let’s pretend game” about girls who have the power to fly and save all the others from a witch who will lock us in her dungeon under the slide, under the sand . . . (Anne, Age 38)


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