So there I am at the Twins-Red Sox game, watching Sidney Ponson pitch around and around the strike zone without ever actually finding it. There’s a family sitting in front of me, wholesome and suburban. The three preschoolers are cute but fidgety, and pretty much totally uninterested in the game. One of the girls is playing with a digital alarm clock, fiddling with the buttons and making lots of irritating beeping noises that distract me from watching the Twins’ batters flail against Curt Schilling.

So the Twins are all “whiff,” and the little girl’s clock is all “beep-beep,” and I’m all “argh,” trying to figure out why the kid is so fascinated with the stupid number pad on a stupid alarm clock (I know exactly why the Twins aren’t hitting: they’re piranhas going up against a shark). Then I actually look at what the girl is doing with the number pad, the way she’s rapidly poking at the keys with her thumbs. Finally, it hits me: this kid is actually pretending to send text messages on a faux phone.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how games and education go together, but I know next to nothing about less structured, more paidic play. When children pretend to use a tool or device, is there some sort of pre-learning operation going on? Are we better drivers today for having had those Fisher Price steering wheels? I don’t know. Maybe the little girl was just goofing around, imitating her elders. Or perhaps, in a few years, she’ll be the new text messaging champion.