“But when children play the right games from the beginning and absorb lawfulness from music and poetry, it follows them in everything and fosters their growth…”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, Bk IV
It’s easy not to be concerned about games. After all, they’re just games.
Watching children play can be amazing. They go about their merry way, building a city, hiding and seeking, moving checkers, kicking a ball. They’re usually very serious about what they’re doing, even as they’re enjoying it.
Maybe that’s why Socrates is so concerned about children playing the right games. To a child a game is really not ‘just a game.’ It’s his or her opportunity to do something like what grownups do, experiencing it as very real.
“Look Daddy, I’ve built a bridge!”
Not, “Look Daddy, I’ve just pretended to build a bridge with these blocks, so my fake trucks can ‘drive’ on it!”
Here children form habits that carry over to what is really serious—perhaps we should say more serious—and they learn how to give, and take, in a common project structured by rules.
And of course children really do expect that rules will be followed—at least by other players. In games children can experience rules for what they truly are—standards of justice, and guideposts to flourishing. For everyone. Even when they’re hard to follow.
The seriousness, the joy, and hopefully the frequency of their play suggest that we should look more intentionally at the games our children play, and indeed perhaps that we play.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.