The social context in question was created by the authors, who showed to pairs of children a variety of game materials and asked them to collaborate on creating a board game. Negotiating the co-construction of a game, back and forth, turn by turn, enabled the children to construct jointly a series of mutually obligatory goals and rules that sequentially defined the evolution of increasingly more complex modes of play. This innovative use of sequential analyses to study evolving streams of conversation discourse represents a fully process-oriented, rather than outcome-oriented, approach to studying cognitive development.
Make-believe play has been investigated across fields including cognitive, clinical, developmental, and social psychology, as well as linguistics, anthropology, and sociology. In this book, a comprehensive, integrative model is proposed, in which all of these approaches are synthesized into a single, coherent whole. The unifying hypothesis behind this synthesis is that make-believe play is a semiotic system, a body of signs and symbols, a language by means of which children express themselves and communicate. This language enables children to regulate and balance both their inner emotional life and their social life. Another central hypothesis is therefore that make-believe play functions as an homeostatic feedback mechanism for controlling the level of arousal around the child's central concerns, as well as the level of interpersonal conflict around issues of social proximity and power. Therapeutic and education applications of make-believe play are derived from these hypotheses and their ramifications.
A variety of theoretical perspectives are represented in the book. For example, both learning and biological explanations are considered. Authors also note two key considerations in investigating family and peer relationships. First, it is necessary to consider the cultural context. The function and meaning of family and peer relationships may differ depending on what roles are played by these relationships in different cultural contexts. Second, it is necessary to consider the child's age. Developmental issues, such as concerns with establishing greater independence at the entrance to adolescence, will impact both family and peer relationships.