Robin Marantz Henig wrote an interesting article about play research and theory for the Sunday Times Magazine. Here's an excerpt addressing the "dark side" of play:
Recognizing play’s dark side is not difficult, if we are really willing to search our memories. To play scholars, thinking about play’s negatives can be clarifying and might even generate new ideas, not only about play but also about the double-edged nature of pleasure itself. Why is it that something so joyous, something children yearn for so forcefully, can be so troubling too? If you’re accustomed to looking for evolutionary explanations for perplexing behavior, here is something meaty to chew on: what could be the adaptive advantage of using play to wrestle your demons?
Demons do indeed emerge at playtime, in part because children carve out play spaces that have no room for the civilizing influence of adults. This is what happened in the recess ‘‘fort culture’’ that arose spontaneously in 1990 at the Lexington Montessori School in Massachusetts, when the elementary-age children shunned the organized play their teachers had arranged and instead started building forts on their own in the surrounding woods. An intricate and rule-bound subculture developed, one that is still going on.
Mark Powell, then a graduate student at Lesley University in Cambridge nearby, observed the recess fort culture for several years in the 1990s and described it in 2007 in the journal Children, Youth and Environments. For the first few years, he wrote, petty conflicts, stick stealing and ejections for minor infractions were a constant background hum in a play culture that was otherwise high-spirited and fun. But it finally erupted into a miniwar one autumn, sparked by the hostile actions of a fort of 6- year-olds headed by a tyrannical little boy who called himself the General. Within a month of the General’s appearance, Powell wrote, the fantasy war play ‘‘had become a reality with daily raids and counterattacks, yelling, the occasional physical scrape and lots of hurt feelings.’’ It took the intervention of some other children, teachers and the General’s parents finally to persuade the child to call a truce. Read the whole thing here...