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

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Publication details

JournalGames and Culture
DateAccepted/In press - 3 Jun 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 May 2018
Issue number3
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)260-279
Early online date25/07/17
Original languageEnglish


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, non-embarrassing 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 non-embarrassing 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, like childcare, 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 embarrassingly inappropriate or exposing outside of play.

    Research areas

  • accounts, adult play, adulthood, alibi, embarrassment, Erving Goffman, frame analysis, motivational accounting system, role distance


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