The fundamental elements of personal play identity can be examined under four themes, named play, personality, socio-culture and environment, and economics and technology according to reviewing process.
The Fundamental Elements of Personal Play Identity Development
The components related to play were primarily determined through the studies reviewed in terms of the development of personal play identity. Then, the sub-concepts of these components were extracted, and the fundamental elements contained in these sub-concepts were gained.
Play as the First Component of Personal Play Identity
Most of the behaviours that organisms exhibit when they are not hunting, breeding and threatened are defined as play behaviour (Bekoff, 1977; Bekoff & Byers, 1998; Fagen, 1981), and these behaviours are mostly seen in mammals, most vertebrates, and rarely in invertebrates (Oliveira et al., 2010). Burghardt (2014) stated that the observation of the play in many types, such as reptiles, lizard, insect, or fish is a strong sign of our evolutionary past. Furthermore, social play plays an important role in metabolism and brain development, especially in mammals (Bekoff, 1977; Burghardt, 2005; Held & Spinka, 2011), and the evolutionary origins of play can be determined even though they are seen as different behavioural patterns across all species (Bekoff, 1977; Bekoff & Byers, 1998; Burghardt, 2014; Oliveira et al., 2010). Biologically, the role of the organism on the balance of brain development can be also shown as the most concrete indicator of the evolutionary origin of play. For instance, Panksepp (2007) examined the effect of play on the brain functions of organisms, stating that play stimulated the amygdala, the brain region responsible for organization, monitoring, and planning the future, and the brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the prefrontal cortex, and reported increased weight and effectiveness of the brains of experimental animals playing with an object two hours a day.
With reference to the genetic origins of play, considering the Darwinian approach based on the idea of a common ancestor (Darwin, 1859), it is thought that defining the purpose of play in an evolutionary context in line with the play behavior of organisms would be a more accurate perspective. It is known that play is older than the culture created by man and animals did not wait for man to teach them how to play (Huizinga, 1949). Based on this idea, it is considered that the definition of play behavior being based on purely human activity will lead to divergence in terms of evolutionary flow. Gross (1898, 1901) emphasized that the aim of play is to achieve talent development and relaxation and defined play for both humans and other organisms as the behaviors that they develop instinctively to improve their individual talents and to escape from the stress of life.
Cheney (1978) also indicated that most of the object-oriented behaviors developed by organisms have features that improve motor skills and pointed to the contribution of play to talent and skill development in the organism. Bekoff (1977) evaluated fake fighting or predatory movements that occur spontaneously in some animals in terms of the behavioral characteristics within play and stated that the movements based on locomotor activities are dominant in the play behavior of animals. Fagen (1981) referred to the play behavior of organisms with its locomotor, object and social aspects and emphasized that social games contributed positively to the organism’s ability to integrate into the group by improving its social skills. As in humans, the behaviors that animals exhibit for play include purposeful intentions, such as relaxation, socialization, and talent development, different from the behaviors they exhibit in real situations (Smith, 1997). While Power (2000) thought that play was widespread in both genders, Blurton Jones (2017) pointed out that males reflected more physical strength, rough and imitation-oriented play behaviors than females, as in many species. It can be stated that the genetic structure of play includes three fundamental elements, namely evolutionary genetic codes, play behavior, and the purpose of play.
According to Henrick (2008) the definition of play can be sought in the answers to following questions: which/what are play? Is play morally good? Is play functional? Is play logical and is it freer than other types of activities? Eberle (2014) emphasized that play had characteristics, such as being aimless, voluntary, extraordinary, fun, and having its own unique rules and defined six fundamental elements of play as anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, strength, and poise. Piaget (1962) examined the characteristics of play and explained the types of play as sensorimotor play, symbolic play, and games with rules. Parten (1933) stated that the schemes for types of play consisted of solitary independent, onlooker (observing others), parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play. According to Smilansky (1968), play types can be grouped as functional (sensorimotor play), structural play (building or art), dramatic (symbolic) play, and games with rules. Piaget (1952) emphasized the functional value of play on cognitive development by drawing attention to the development of the imagination, animistic thinking, concrete and abstract thinking skills, and problem-solving skills included in the play process. In addition, Vygotsky (1967, 2004) revealed the relationship between play and creativity, imagination, and mental development, and how these skills improve during in play.
When the philosophical structure of play is examined, epistemic play is included in the play classification together with ludic play and games with rules. In epistemic play, children learn about the properties of objects and physically manipulate these objects and use them for different purposes (Hutt et al., 1989). For instance, Leung et al. (2020) reported in their study based on video art in the context of digital play that children’s cognitive skills were improved in terms of exploration, problem solving, and skill acquisition in the epistemic play process, while others engaging in ludic activities were likely to participate in symbolic or innovative play. In this respect, it is thought that epistemic or heuristic play is a type of play and has characteristics that shed light on the philosophical structure of play. Considering that epistemic questions, such as the limits, nature, origin, and originality/freedom of play are effective in shaping the perception of play (Güneş et al., 2020), one of the important elements of play is thought to be its epistemic structure.
Personality as the Second Component of Personal Play Identity
The social development and cultural context of play are closely related to the identity possessed by the individual and the society and culture they are part of through this identity (Elkonin, 2005; Vygotsky, 1978). According to Weeks (1990), the originality of identity and the value of difference should be perceived positively by both individuals and communities, and the formation of belonging according to the differences and similarities between us and others should be examined from a holistic perspective. Turner (2010) considered the formation of group membership with the concept of social identity and self, and the development of a positive self-perception and self-esteem as the basis of a healthy social class formation. Similarly, Tajfel and Turner (2004) stated that inclusion in the group, intra-group behavior and intergroup conflicts was part of social identity development. The acceptance of the individual by the social structure and adaptation of the individual to the culture have a decisive effect on social identity acquisition and on the process of becoming a member of the group (Wetherell, 1996). In this respect, the play groups in which human beings are included in their childhood point to the formation of the first social classes and the common play experiences of these classes are indicators of the foundations of a social identity development with similar characteristics, as well as conflicts. From this perspective, personality including personal and social identity elements is an important component in the development of play identity.
The personal experiences and perception of play incorporated in personality are the source of the elements of the development of play identity. According to Eck (2017), memories of play are very special, and those emotional experiences are remembered and help to overcome the difficulties encountered in adult life. Similarly, Sandberg (2001) stated that play memories were deemed very important by individuals in terms of their childhoods, and that the toys with which they played, and the features of these toys were also prominent in their play memories together with the emotions of the individuals. However, the interactions of parents, playmates and other adults in play are considered to be more valuable than toys in play memories since it has been reported that some adults do not adequately engage in play with their children, and for those children, in their play memories, some of the closest playmates are pets (Henniger, 1994).
The process of parents in learning about how their children play within the socio-cultural context has been affected by social media, suggesting that the parent and child interaction has begun to shift from a physical communication to a social and digital platform, and this indicates that there are difference between the play memories of children and their parents (McLean, 2020). As a natural result of the differentiation of the play memories of children and parents, the perception of play also varies. The expectations of the parents have been shown to be quite different from the experiences of children during the play process (O’Gorman & Ailwood, 2012), and these differences in parents’ perception of play are among the important variables that affect the child’s play process. For instance, mothers are more aware of the value of play and its effect on academic success than fathers and support their children in play. In addition, even though parents have positive perceptions about play, it has been found that the positive perceptions of parents change negatively as their children grow up and approach the formal education period. Thus, parents’ perceptions of play tend to have a negative correlation with their children’s ages (Warash et al., 2017). Furthermore, teachers’ perceptions of play have an important role in children’s play development. In one study, it was reported that although the classroom teachers had positive perceptions about the role of play in learning and the value of play, this was not reflected in their classroom practices and the children were observed to be reluctant even in continuing play they initiated themselves (Ranz-Smith, 2007).
Socio-Culture and Environment as the Third Component of Personal Play Identity
The ethnographic characteristics of play (Roopnarine et al., 1994), its intercultural structure (Edwards, 2000; Singer et al., 2009), and cultural depth (Sutton-Smith, 2001) which reflects its cultural values and beliefs (Holmes, 2011) and also contains universal elements (Lancy, 2002) shed light on a relationship between play and culture based on an illustrious past (Holmes, 2013). From this point of view, one of the important components of personal play identity development is socio-culture and environment.
Play is directly affected not only by positive sociological facts but also by the negative aspects experienced by the members of a society. In particular, studies reveal that war, natural disasters, or internal conflicts and violence cause mental disorders due to post-traumatic stress in children (Berman, 2001; Catani et al., 2008), and they also negatively alter the nature and structure of play processes (Chazan & Cohen, 2010;Feldman, 2019 ; Paksuniemi et al., 2015). Although it is known that children continue to play even during war (Paksuniemi et al., 2015) and war cannot constitute an impediment for play, children do engage in play in an unsafe environment, in which they are subjected to acute stress (Feldman, 2019). Children exposed to this type of violence experience long-term mental and physical health problems and traumas (Berman, 2001); inevitably they reflect their negative experiences in their play. Faced with natural disasters, such as war and violence, children are seriously deprived of an adequate education, in addition to the effects on their physical and mental health (Kousky, 2016); thus, these children show negative development and these negativities are reflected in the next generation.
Widespread health problems affecting the world have an important effect on the development of play identity. According to Wang et al. (2020), the closure of schools upon the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical and mental health of 180 million primary and middle school children and 47 million preschool children could potentially be adversely affected, due to less physical activity, long-term screen viewing, irregular sleep, unsuitable diets, and weight gain. However, play has a therapeutic power (Chazan & Cohen, 2010; Post et al., 2019) and is known to survive not only through destructive social events, such as war and terrorism (Feldman, 2019; Paksuniemi et al., 2015) but also in natural disasters (Kousky, 2016). In this context, although the healthy development of play identity is affected by negative social events or natural disasters, the healing power of play within its own dynamics is considered to have the potential to treat the damage that might occur in play identity. In conclusion, it can be stated that socio-culture, which is among the important sub-concepts of personal play identity development, includes historical events elements, such as war, natural disasters, and global health problems.
One of the important components under the socio-cultural sub-concept is ethnicity and immigration, in which considering the answers to the questions of who I am and where I belong is part of the personal and social identity development (Gleason, 1983). In this context, play processes that directly affect the identity development of children are also directly affected by ethnicity and migration. Immigrant children experience mental and physical health problems in the countries they have moved to, showing developmental disorders under stress, and frequently experiencing traumas due to the need to adapt to a different society (Ehntholt & Yule, 2006). Children who are excluded from social, cultural, economic, and political life due to their ethnic identity or poverty have the potential to exhibit behavioral problems at later stages in their lives (Post et al., 2019). In another study on the effect of ethnicity and immigration on the choice of play and toys, it was reported that the quality of toy choices and playing times of children aged three to four years varied according to socio-economic status, ethnicity, and gender (Trawick-Smith et al., 2015).
Family typologies also play an important role in the social structure of play identity development, as in all socio-cultural elements, considering that the family is the first environment on which migration and ethnicity have the most effect on all members (Platt, 2008). Among the main family typologies, Sturge-Apple et al. (2010) examined the play of cohesive, enmeshed, and disengaged families with their children, and reported that children’s play behaviors and prosocial behavior achievements toward social life differed compared with incompatible family typologies. It has been shown that family-child interaction and family typologies have a determining effect on developing behaviors toward negative emotions and thoughts, such as irritability, anger, and rage, and that the social peer relationships of children who have warm and positive relationships, and their interactions with their peers and behaviors within play are more positive (McHale et al., 1999). Children’s behaviors observed in social and non-social play and their preferred types of play are related to their personal and family characteristics (Rentzou, 2014).
The environment which individuals inhabit not only affects their physical and mental development, but also their identity development processes. Individuals develop different skills and behaviors in each different environment, and there is a strong interaction between skills and abilities that encompass daily life and develop within the context of space identity (Proshansky, 1978). Space identity can be defined as memories, attitudes, values, thoughts, meanings, and behaviors belonging to a particular place. In addition to the foregoing, space identity also includes physical, social, cultural environment, and self-identity (Proshansky et al., 1983; Proshansky & Fabian, 1987). Places in which childhood is spent support play memories and play behaviors with social bond and communication development and greatly shape future behaviors and attitudes (Chawla, 1992). On the other hand, considering the physical environment as important at different stages of life, it is argued that there is a connection between place identities and how adults play in their childhood and how their play processes are shaped today (Sandberg, 2003). In this context, it can be accepted that the memories, behaviors, conditions, and relationships contained in the space identity are an effective element, giving clues to the foundations of the development of the play identity.
Since the environment is not only composed of informal settings, it is thought that the school/academic environment plays a critical role in in terms of play identity. Findings showed that school experiences were not only limited to academic subjects and revealed the positive effects of socialization and school experiences on impulse control in older age children (secondary and high school) were compatible with development theories emphasizing that permanent track experiences in schools might cause long-term personality change (Brandt et al., 2019). From this point of view, it is understood that in preschool where personality development has begun to intensely take shape comprises an environment that makes a difference in terms of personality and play identity development. The environment consists of physical (design, material, and furniture), social (child-teacher and family communication) and temporal (time, flow, activity and daily routines) components; thus, pre-school is considered to have a decisive effect on children’s learning and development (Catron & Allen, 2008). In line with this train of thought, Hirose et al. (2012) stated that indoor and outdoor arrangements were important not only for the healthy development of children, but also for discovering their special play behaviors and interests. In addition, it is accepted that the outdoor environment shapes children’s social play (Miranda et al., 2017) and is one of the important elements of children’s socio-dramatic play processes (Robertson et al., 2020).
Economics and Technology as the Fourth Component of Personal Play Identity
In the rapidly globalizing world, the component of economics and technology plays a critical role in shaping the other three components. The economic structure of countries directly affects the healthy development of children, whether they have an adequate and balanced diet, and their access to qualified education. For example, the findings from the Young Lives International Research Project confirm the strong link between early childhood diet and cognitive development in older ages and point out the importance of economic development by emphasizing a similar relationship between child nutrition and social emotional outcomes, such as self-esteem and self-efficacy (Boyden & Dercon, 2012). In the Growth and Development Report of the World Bank Commission (2008) emphasized that economic investments were not only necessary for the survival and quality life of children but should also be undertaken to create a sustainable economy.
Low-income and large families are among the common risks referred to in both the economy and child development literature. In addition, problems in economic development lead to certain issues in children, such as multiple developmental risks, lacking an adequate and balanced diet, having low education levels, and not accessing an effective educational environment (Dercon, 2002). Over the last 70 years of economic development, it is reported that approximately 63% of the world population in the 1950s, 43% in the 1980s, and 10% in 2015 lived in extreme poverty. Although the extreme poverty rate has tended to decline in recent years, the rapidly developing technology and innovation processes seem to have negatively contributed to a tendency toward inputs with a low efficiency increase and excessive consumption (Inklaar et al., 2018; World Bank, 2019). In this context, although the economic development experienced in the technology and innovation process seems to have made progress over the last 70 years, this growth appears to have exhibited an excessive consumption-oriented structure. One of the concrete examples that form the basis of this idea is the rapid growing of a technology-based toy market, which negatively affects children’s creativity and can cause them to experience an artificial and social isolation. The recent focus on children’s use of digital games and toys and indoor computer games shows the negative reflections of uncontrolled economic development on play and toys. In this context, this weak economic structure negatively affects the health and educational skills of the children, while the strong and uncontrolled economy changes the nature of play and takes the children away from creativity and socialization.
Technology developing in parallel with the economy has recently been a determinant variable on the lives of children. It is seen that technological tools, such as the internet, mobile phone, television, and video games are now an accepted part of the lives of children and adults (Hull, 2015). Recent studies have shown that the video art as digital play (Leung et al., 2020), active screen time (Hu et al., 2020), and digital preschool environment and applications (Fleer, 2020) have positive effects on child’s learning, creativity, and innovation skills. Digital technology is no longer seen as an enemy of children by some researchers (Fleer, 2020; Hu et al., 2020; Kewalramani et al., 2020; Leung et al., 2020). Furthermore, Plowman and McPake (2013) debunked as a myth that technology is an enemy of children; rather, they defined young children as digital natives. However, the levels of benevolence and prosocial behavior of children who are exposed to violent video games are one of the negative application areas of technological development, which have resulted in a significant increase in the externalization behavior of children at an early age (Coyne et al., 2018). Even though the technology use in childhood results in looking at a screen for a long time and being immobilized, attention problem (Swing et al., 2010), physical problems, obesity and eating habits (Rosen et al., 2014), cognitive development problem (Kumari & Ahuja, 2010), sleep and memory problems (Dworak et al., 2007) with negative effects on the three main aspects, namely health and well-being, cognition and brain development, and social and cultural competencies (Bolstad, 2004), many studies that emphasize the positive aspects of children’s technology use also present remarkable findings (Fleer, 2020; Hu et al., 2020; Kewalramani et al., 2020; Leung et al., 2020; Plowman & McPake, 2013). Another example of the positive effects of technology is the integration of technology into early childhood education. It was reported that many educators had expressed views on increased efficiency in the evaluation of activities with the use of technology in game-based classes (Danniels et al., 2020).