Play Crucial During Times of War According to American Journal of Play

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 • 585-263-2700 •

July 2, 2019

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Noelle McElrath-Hart, 585-410-6325,

Play Targeted but Crucial
for Children in Times of War
According to the American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, NY—Do children play in times of war? How do they adapt to the conflict around them? According to the latest issue of the American Journal of Play, some children do play—often in clandestine ways—in times of violence, and the presence of play and games showcases the significance of play as a means of coping with traumatic experiences. In the article, “Children’s Play in the Shadow of War,” author Daniel Feldman, lecturer at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, explores the contemporary conflict in Syria and the past atrocities of the Holocaust to examine the precarious nature of play during times of violence, how children adapt their playing, and its therapeutic benefits.

Feldman says that children’s play is typically one of the first casualties of armed conflict, particularly when warring factions target civilian populations, because parents and guardians rush children to safer spaces—often away from their indoor and outdoor play spaces. Despite the United Nations guaranteeing a child’s right to play, Feldman cites numerous examples of armed forces suppressing the play of children in Syria through airstrikes and constant shelling of population centers. Feldman likens this to Nazi Germany during World War 11, where the ghettos and concentration camps made play difficult or outright prohibited it.

Despite war making play extremely difficult, children often find ways to take their play underground or to play in new spaces. Feldman writes, “The findings suggest that, although play gets quashed for many children at war, those children who, amid violent upheaval, manage to engage in play in any of its forms—games, sport, recreation, and make-believe—convert play into a mode of cognition that seeks to assert juvenile order over chaotic and dangerous circumstances.” It becomes a way of therapeutically contending with armed conflict.

Unfortunately, not all children are able to play, and protracted warfare often leads to young children who lack the ability to understand how to play. Some children, Feldman notes, may not even recognize forms of play when they see it. He cites an example of a child after World War II who does not know how to jump rope or even what the activity is called. In these cases, children often need to re-learn play and acquire knowledge about what it means to play. This type of play therapy, Feldman writes, provides substantial benefits to war survivors.

Feldman concludes, “From Aleppo to Uganda, Somalia to Sri Lanka, armed hostility in the 21st century seems poised to spread patterns of warfare first introduced during the Holocaust to a global canvas. If that is indeed the case, games and play will become a frequent target of war even as the sustaining power of children’s play will be enlisted to contend with trauma in conflicts around the world.”

Additional articles in Vol. 11, No. 3 of the American Journal of Play include:

“Profiles of Playful Men and Playful Women: Personality and Humor-Related Attributes,” by Lynn A. Barnett. The author examines approaches to predicting playfulness in adults, and through a survey of young men and young women, explores the role of gender.

“From Displays and Dioramas to Doll Dramas: Adult World Building and World Playing with Toys,” by Katriina Heljakka and J. Tuomas Harviainen. The authors analyze toy photography on social media, toy conventions, and adult-organized toy play dates to investigate how adults play with dolls, action figures, and soft toys. They argue that adults actively engage in world building in their world play and that play, rather than collecting or pursuing a hobby, better describes this activity.

 “Video Games and English as Second Language: The Effect of Massive Multiplayer Online Video Games on the Willingness to Communicate and Communicative Anxiety of College Students in Puerto Rico,” by Kenneth S. Horowitz. The author argues that online multiplayer video games may offer safe spaces for speakers of other languages learning English to practice their second language skills. Horowitz’s study shows a statistically significant relationship between how much a person plays games and their confidence in and reduced anxiety about using a second language.

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at Printed editions are also available for subscription and single-copy purchase.

About the American Journal of Play
The American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year by The Strong museum in Rochester, New York, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.