Skip to main content

RESEARCH: Concordia study offers insight into children's 'Dark Play' and moral explorations

February 28, 2024

Research sheds light on how children confront fears and navigate morality through imaginative play, revealing insights into societal dynamics

A team of researchers from Concordia University, led by Sandra Chang-Kredl, associate professor of education, recently published a study on how children engage in play themes involving fear and danger, commonly referred to as "dark play." This study involved observing both online activities, such as Roblox, and offline activities, including Lego and doll play, over the course of one year.

According to Chang-Kredl, "one of the fascinating findings of this research was just how intense children's imaginative play can appear." While dark play may unsettle some adults, it can provide a valuable space for children to confront and work through their fears, such as by assuming the role of a villain. This phenomenon highlights the interplay between fear and enjoyment and assists children in navigating complex and often conflicting concepts of "us" and "them."

A crucial aspect of children's self-recognition involves contrasting identities (the "not-self") and social comparisons with those who are similar or dissimilar to them.

Drawing upon cultural symbols and narratives, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and classic fairy tales, the children immersed themselves in roles ranging from weaponized avatars to human-animal hybrids, Lego villains and superheroes. They enacted scenarios involving both powerful destruction (e.g., poisoning adversaries, saving the universe) and acts of kindness (e.g., rescuing children from evil witches).

Through playful experimentation with aggressive and destructive fantasies, and through the development of narrative frameworks, they explored characterizations of self and others that situated concepts of good and bad along a continuum rather than as distinct categories.

In the current climate of societal division, this study provides valuable insight into how children navigate complex moral and societal boundaries through their play.

To learn more, read Chang-Kredl, Mamlok & Venkatesh’s "Dark Play and Children’s Dyadic Constructions of Self and Other" in the American Journal of Play.


Back to top

© Concordia University