Lev Vygotsky and The Primary Paradox of Play

For my current research on video games as social constructivist learning environments, I’ve spent some time with Vygotsky’s work. He writes sometimes explicitly about play… and it’s amazing how much it reads like the game design books I am also exploring. In parts, it reminds me of the “Sim Word of the Day” posts Clark Aldrich was sharing earlier this year at The Learning Circuits Blog. In these posts, and in his books, Aldrich often writes about the paradoxes inherent in educational simulations. Here’s a similar excerpt from Vygotsky, who was writing over 70 years ago:

“The primary paradox of play is that the child operates with an alienated meaning in a real situation. The second paradox is that in play she adopts the line of least resistance – she does what she most feels like doing because play is connected with pleasure – and at the same time she learns to follow the line of greatest resistance by subordinating herself to rules and thereby renouncing what she wants, since subjection to rules and rnunciation of impulsive action constitute the path to maximum pleasure in play.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 99)


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.