Play has long been a fascinating topic for researchers studying children psychology, but Proyer (2017) examines how play in general in its respective field is severely understudied and even less research is undertaken with adults. The author acknowledges that across any particular discipline, play and playfulness are incredibly difficult to define and measure, which may explain why the research is so scarce. Despite these difficulties however, studies have begun to increase over the last several years focusing on play and playfulness, specifically adult play.
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Even with the difficulties of defining and measuring play and playfulness, Barnett (2007) was able to devise a system of descriptors and traits that are commonly related to playfulness were then further placed on a sliding scale of low to high. The goal of the study was to see if playfulness in general could be more easily identified as a psychological construct in young adults (university students) (Barnett 2007). Even with the difficulties of measuring playfulness, this study showed how playfulness can be defined and measured even if it means different things to different people.
Looking at adult play from a historical standpoint, Voogt (2017) explores how games of strategy, and the use of such game play by adults is more likely to be found in more complex societies. Even though strategy games are more often than not played by adults, the bulk of game-play research up to this point has primarily been focused on children instead of adults. Since there is no current research on the connection between adult play in general and the historical significance of games, the author suggests that research on the combined two would be a productive move forward.
When looking at modern society, it has become increasingly frowned upon for adults to engage in play. Adults are seen as the responsible members of society and any activity that has the potential to go against that or embarrass the adult is therefore seen as unacceptable. Exploring this topic further, Deterding (2018) looks how the societal standard of play (often referred to as childlike play) is at odds with what it considered appropriate and responsible adult conduct. He aims to uncover ways that adult play can live within the standards of society without being embarrassing. Deterding examines how even though adult play is frowned upon, adults do engage in play quite frequently and often quite unashamedly: Bingo nights, bowling clubs, Adult Fans of Legos, etc. (Deterding 2018). Yet, the underlying problem remains that adults should be embarrassed by partaking in playful activities. The study aims to further uncover the connection between adulthood, play, and embarrassment, and how to engage adults in non-embarrassing play.
While play in general is often seen as a negative adult activity, Scott (2018) examines the role of the more acceptable leisurely adult in people’s lives. Scott aims to rediscover the adult play group, which he defines as a collection of adults who meet at regular intervals to participate in a given leisure activity (Scott 2018). The scholar notes that leisure activities in general can be deeply enjoyable flow experiences that result in people becoming completely absorbed by the action and losing all sense of time and place (Scott 2018). While there is plenty of research on leisure activities in and of themselves, there are far less studies about adults who participate in common leisure activities. Scott attempts to show not only how adult play groups form, but how they operate on a finer level to create social capital and potentially empower their participants.
In another study pertaining to the implications of adult play, L. and Stenros (2018) attempt to explore the implications behind the phrase adult play, insinuating that even though sexual play could be a part of this broader topic, there are many branches of other activities that could equally be classified as adult play. Through a series of articles, Stenros, et al. uncovers that from a societal standpoint, it appears to be more transgressive and risky for adults to engage in an activity marked as play that is not of a sexual nature (Stenros, et al. 2018). The research of these articles attempts to build bridges between different research traditions. Since adult play is such a vast field, it could be approached from the discipline of game studies but also from sexology, toy studies, sociology, play studies, and game design research (Stenros, et al. 2018).
Now closely looking at toy play, Heljakka (2018) explores how three different types of adults (theorists, hobbyists, and every day players) think about and engage with what is known as adult toy play. The author acknowledges that with the advancements in sociotechnological developments such as the rise in the popularity of the Internet and most importantly the growing popularity of social media platforms as playscapes, we are witnessing a gradually strengthening emergence of the once ephemeral phenomenon of adult toy play. (Heljakka 2018). While the adult who engages in play with these toys shies away from acknowledging their activity as actual play, through interviews, Heljakka attempts to open the idea of play to the toy-interested adult who is engaging in activities that are seemingly already playful in nature.
Technology Social Media Playfulness and Human Affect. (2019, Mar 24).
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