One of the more unusual aspects of children is their constant love for playing pretend. As a child I lived a rich life of imagination, though my own imagination and its stories and fantasies were something I tended to keep mostly to myself, even though they occasionally became parts of larger writings later on. Playing pretend was a way of finding a safe castle of the imagination far away from a deeply unpleasant childhood that offered few opportunities for enjoyment and respect. Being the lord of my own imagination may have been a less pleasant reality than having lived a good real life, and certainly the wide gap between imagination and reality cannot be said to be a good thing, but all the same it was probably for the best that I had a strong capacity for imagination in at least some aspects, as it offered one of the few opportunities of escape for a young person trapped in a truly intolerable reality.
There are many reasons why children play pretend. One of them is that children are fascinated by roles and role-playing. They want to imagine themselves as princesses and queens, or as doctors and dentists, and so they make up opportunities to enjoy these aspects of life even if they know little about the behavior of these roles. In many ways, their role-playing has the goal of having them practice, at least in small ways, the behavior of adults that they can recognize. When one has the capacity to at least pretend to be an adult, perhaps it is possible to become a slightly better one as the opportunity for maturity comes about.
In many ways, we learn to be an adult by playing pretend until it becomes real. I have long noticed that some young people (this is especially true of young women) have a driving interest to help take care of little ones. In taking care of little ones and showing care and concern for those who are small, there are a lot of valuable lessons that are learned about child care, lessons learned in small ways that help to prepare others as best as possible for the real thing. While it is impossible that we should know entirely what we are getting into as far as marriage and raising up children are concerned, at the very least if we have some small idea, it gives us at least the confidence to enter into the unknown, if we might be too timid to do so by nature otherwise.
This is also true in a professional sense and not merely in a family sense. The professions that we join are often those we have some sort of ability to envision. What we see and what we play gives us the dreams that we eventually work towards. In previous generations and in areas outside of the United States, there has often been the occasion to teach people through apprentice programs in trades that start at a young age. Those who learn a trade start out by learning the basics of a given task, and gradually show themselves capable of handling increased responsibility as apprentices until it is time for them to seek their own way as journeymen and then, if they are fortunate and skilled, become masters and pass on a lifetime of skill and knowledge to those who come up after them.
In this day and age, we are in a world where some types of change are particularly rapid (especially technological and cultural change) and some types of change (particularly as it relates to the development of virtue as well as servant leadership models in social institutions) appear to be at a standstill or even in reversal. It is not only children who play pretend, but adults as well, as we so often indulge in our own interest in roleplaying in this day and age, whether it is putting on masks, developing elaborate second lives, or indulging in our own games as we seek to find the respect that we lack in our normal lives. In so doing, we show ourselves (and perhaps others) that we are not so far removed from the children we used to be. We often still need to practice the arts of this life and still need realms of the imagination that give us strength and encouragement that we lack in the harsh realities of our times. Whether that truth speaks as to our own continuing infantile behavior or to the extreme savagery of our times (or a little bit of both) is difficult to say for certain.