Role Play and Dressing Up

Toys and games for role playing games and dressing up

Role playing games and dressing up are activities that children have done on their own as far back as you care to remember. The simplest dress-up for a child was to put on adult clothes and pretend to be Mommy and Daddy. Children would soon move on to dress up as cowboys, ballerinas, astronauts, kings, princesses, witches and super-heroes. Little boys dress up as pirates and go out into the backyard to bury treasure and little girls dress up as little ladies having a tea party with their stuffed toys. A dress up games stimulates a child’s imagination and helps them to understand what possibilities exist for them as an adult in the years to come.

Many toy stores now sell costumes for children year round rather than only at certain times of the year. Costumes can be rented, of course, but rentals should be reserved for special occasions. It’s much more fun and much more creative to pull together a dress-up costume from scratch, buying this or that, and creating an individual look that cannot be found in a packaged costume. Most children grow up beyond dress-up games well before they become teen-agers, with two large groups being the exceptions.

The first group who continue to dress up as a game are pre-tween and tween girls, who do it both actually and virtually. Fashion shows hosted by a ten-year old girl in her bedroom before a group of friends have become the “in” thing to do. Some website and computer games that popularize fashion allow computer users to dress up virtual mannequins as they like and then compare, chat and socialise with others doing the same thing. Based on the centuries-old concept of Paper Dolls, the graphics and interactive capabilities of these computer applications make the situation feel almost real. And perhaps these games will be the first step for a young child to become a world-famous fashion designer.

The second exception to children growing up and away from dressing-up comes from a very different tradition, story-telling. It all starts when parents would read aloud to their young children, taking on the many different voices of the characters. Children enjoy seeing the characters from their books come to life and begin to understand the power of role playing. Dressing up as a princess or a pirate comes with its own version of role play and children soon discover the energy and the stimulating sense of power in an improvisational setting and in a structured game with rules.

Those children who get serious about their role playing games start in their early teens. Board games like CLUE, where you pretend to be one of a group of suspects in a murder mystery, may be the first instance. Or perhaps it’s a party where the host starts a Murder Mystery Game, available at toy stores in many variations as a full kit. Next come the Role Playing Games or RPGs, the best-known of which is “Dungeons and Dragons” or D&D. A combination of fantasy and improvisational story-telling within a structure of rules, D&D is usually played around a tabletop, sometimes with little figurines. The referee is in charge of an imaginary world where the players listen to vivid descriptions of fantasy landscapes and situations involving magic and monsters. Players react and “move” about that world in a quest to defeat evil forces. Many pre-packaged scenarios are available in toy stores.

Live-Action Role Playing or LARPing is the next step beyond RPGs. Rather than gather around a tabletop, players dress up as the characters and play out the scenarios in a park or field. It’s all still imaginary, with no real violence or physical confrontation. Older teens may become interested in groups who LARP.