Alibis for Adult Play: A Goffmanian Account of Escaping Embarrassment in Adult Play

The social meanings of play sit at odds with norms of responsible and productive adult conduct. To be “caught ” playing as an adult therefore risks embarrassment. Still, many designers want to create enjoyable, nonembarrassing play experiences for adults. To address this need, this article reads instances of spontaneous adult play through the lens of Erving Goffman’s theory of the interaction order to unpack conditions and strategies for nonembarrassing adult play. It identifies established frames, segregated audiences, scripts supporting smooth performance, managing audience awareness, role distancing, and, particularly, alibis for play: Adults routinely provide alternative, adult-appropriate motives to account for their play, such as child care, professional duties, creative expression, or health. Once legitimized, the norms and rules of play themselves then provide an alibi for behavior that would risk being embarrassing outside play. © 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.

The social meanings of play sit at odds with norms of responsible and productive adult conduct. To be “caught ” playing as an adult therefore risks embarrassment. Still, many designers want to create enjoyable, nonembarrassing play experiences for adults. To address this need, this article reads instances of spontaneous adult play through the lens of Erving Goffman’s theory of the interaction order to unpack conditions and strategies for nonembarrassing adult play. It identifies established frames, segregated audiences, scripts supporting smooth performance, managing audience awareness, role distancing, and, particularly, alibis for play: Adults routinely provide alternative, adult-appropriate motives to account for their play, such as child care, professional duties, creative expression, or health. Once legitimized, the norms and rules of play themselves then provide an alibi for behavior that would risk being embarrassing outside play. © 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.

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