The collection of papers presented in this Special Issue is the outcome of a series of workshops on the evolution of play held between 2011 and 2013 and sponsored by the National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN, USA). These workshops were aimed at stimulating a multidisciplinary discussion about one of the most debated and controversial behaviours in the Animal Kingdom. Although neglected for a long time by researchers studying non-human animals, play research seems to be having a new Renaissance and the last ten years have been extremely fruitful in highlighting some important functions and in delineating key correlates of this activity. Obviously, it is impossible to fully represent such a multifaceted topic as play in a handful of papers; however, the articles in this Special Issue bring to light some over-arching themes and together provide innovative perspectives on play.
In small-scale societies children have great access to observing adult roles and this is often reflected in their play, however very few empirical studies of work-themed play have been conducted despite substantial implications that this type of play has for social learning. The current study describes the work-themed play patterns of 1 1/2- to 4-year-old Aka and Bofi foragers and Bofi farmers in Central Africa and examines the extent to which subsistence economy, age, and gender predicted how often children were observed engaging in work-themed play and characteristics of work-themed play. Overall, farmer children engaged in more work-themed play than forager children. Very few gender differences were observed in work-themed play. Age and subsistence economy predicted tendencies for children to be near adults while engaged in work-themed play and to use objects in their work-themed play.