A Doll’s House: The Sims, Star Wars, BDSM

How’s that for a controversial title? Way to get flagged by SafeSearch, too…

There’s some insight into The Sims (free registration required) and social learning in the New York Times today. The piece emphasizes how children’s roleplay in The Sims bears close resemblance to their play with dolls, allowing them to rehearse social behaviour, and explore identity. What seems particularly noteworthy here is the observed gender difference in approaches to the game. From the original article:

The popularity of The Sims among girls dovetails neatly with some researchers’ ideas about the fantasy lives of kids. “Children generally want to create characters, but with girls we see them wanting to create a friend,” said Marjorie Taylor, head of the psychology department at the University of Oregon and author of “Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them” (Oxford, 1999). “It might be expressed through a doll or something like The Sims or be completely imaginary, but with a girl that character is often going to be someone just like them, another girl that they can relate to … but with boys, they are often more interested in actually taking on a pretend identity. Rather than it being a character outside themselves, boys want to create a character and actually inhabit it.”

Coming upon this article today has given some longitudinal perspective to my thoughts about youth and subculture. Subcultures (whether musical or otherwise) seem to be adult forms of roleplay, and it could be argued that they have lineage in the kinds of play we engage in as children – be that playing with dolls, video games, or what-have-you.

We might even describe it as a sequential process, with children maturing through various phases of roleplay. For example, playing with Star Wars action figures – a masculinized form of doll play for boys, occupying the same space as hockey cards and comic books – may evolve into more aggressive activities, such as first person shooters on Atari/Nintendo. This play could also mature into activities of more complexity (like The Sims, or conventional RPGs). There’s also an apparent continuity of development between doll play, roleplay, and music subculture (via teen pinups, fan cultures, and later record collecting) that’s worthy of some exploration.

But other, less musical subcultures are relevant to the discussion too, even if only for the terminology they adopt to explain what they do. “Play” is a term adopted by contemporary fetish subcultures to describe their activities, and much of the “play” that these groups engage in (and the way that they verbally frame their experiences) bears some (superficial, at least) resemblance to playing with dolls. And I’m not even going to get started about furries.

On a personal note, maybe the unavoidable sci-fi and horror influences I had as a child (Outer Limits, Dawn of the Dead, etc.) were a direct roadmap to Cabaret Voltaire and Bauhaus?

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