The Hidden Playground
When you're a kid, there's nothing quite like playing outside. Yet kids today have fewer opportunities to engage in unsupervised outdoor play than ever before. Sara Grimes looks at how games can encourage kids to experiment and explore - both in game worlds and outside.
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Most of us live in a place where you need a car to reach "outdoors", or at least a bus. I see less and less kids riding the bus these days. However there are still places where there are dragons and magic and fairies, every town has those.
But now the parents are required to act, if they drive their kids to school every morning they can't really argue against driving their kid(s) and two or three others out of the city and let them play there. Additional bonus: It's not easy for them just to go back in the house.
I still remember in my early youth I was grounded once or twice and it was a punishment. But at the time I got my first good PC, it just wasn't. So my mother made me go outside instead. Maybe this is the right thing to do nowadays, but maybe it makes the kid think: Being outside equals punishment. I don't know.
I can't help but wonder if this free-range kids movement was started by human slave traffickers hit hard by the lack of kids wandering the streets and being left in front of shops.
But seriously, suburban sprawl is just as much (if not more) to blame. Send a kid outside now-a-days, where the hell is (s)he going to go? Only the nice neighborhoods have parks you want your kids hanging out at. The fact of the matter is that (by money or age restrictions) kids don't have a lot of options open to them like people who are over 21 (in the states) do.
Another thing I noticed: parents are lazy. My mom used to take me all over the place; I've probably been to every park in the tri-state area. If parents are concerned, they should take their kids out. It's also easier for the kid; who doesn't have a drivers license yet.
This is an interesting topic that could go on for ages.
I do, first of all, agree that children need to get out more, and to explore. I'm in my teens and I still love exploring. I once spent an entire day looking for the park they filmed a 'Dawn of the Dead' scene. I can't go on vacation anywhere without running around to find things. Kids these days just don't do that.
Games do encourage exploration, and that makes the connection. Boom! Another reason to be a gamer :)
Even in more mature games I think there's something to be taught... Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge got me into freerunning, which opened up a whole new plane of exploration.
As a teenager myself, I love exploring.
However, I never get to.
I understand your point about teenagers never getting to go anywhere due to the 'ravages of the outside world', because I've been there myself, my parents worrying over every little toe I put over the trodden path, although I know all about these supposed 'youth', and how easy it is to avoid them and keep walking.
It does, however, have a huge transition when you compare this to my grandparents. I once went round heir house for a few days, and we were going to go to a nearby castle, but instead I spotted a sign to Scotland - 2 1/2 miles (we were in South-West England), so we followed it all the way, and found a farm.
It really is the modern state of parenting.
I grew up playing in the woods, the one good thing about being poor was having to think up how to have fun rather than just buying it. I love video games, but not bothered I only got 1-2 a year growing up. Fond memories of building club house, collecting bugs and just exploring with friends or imagination.
The current trends really do seem to be driven by shifting norms in parenting, along with ever mounting (and arguably quite distorted) fears about abductions, accidents, bullies, etc. A big part of the problem is definitely about the allocation of space and the lack of "playable" spaces. And GonzoGamer is right on the money about the links between nice neighborhoods and better parks/playspaces. Add these things together, and it creates an environment that is very hard for parents & kids to tackle on their own. Michael Chabon (who I cite in the article) has a great comment about this, where he describes that when he plays outside with his daughter they rarely if ever run into any other kids. "Even if I do send them out," he wonders, "will there be anyone to play with?" (here's the link - it's a great read: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22891).
CK76 - me too - building dams, catching fireflies, climbing trees :)
Although I think there is a definite need for kids to get outside and actually experience the world, I think there is another challenge that exists beyond the build up of urban areas and parenting like you mentioned.
While I think an ideal situation would be kids getting out and having a ball at the local park, or forest if you live farther out from a city centre, today's kids are raised on a steady diet of television and, in some households, computer games which from personal experience tend to reduce a child's ability to use their imagination. Would kids like to go outside if they can't think up a game and they're just running around a park and not a moon base? While that obstacle may be overcome for some children, I think for some it'll already be an immovable barrier to enjoying the great outdoors.
Great piece anyway!
Yes, let's encourage kids to go out with a DSi or PSP outside, playing the game and walking blindly next to me.
I once saw a 9 year old boy, playing a PSP. He didn't have ANYTHING against thieves. Nothing, not even a string around the neck. I was seriously considering grabbing that PSP and throwing it into a river, just to teach the idiot a lesson. Especially since I was riding the bike.
I'm more than sure there are people who would just grab it, maybe punch the kid in the face and run away with a $200 console in their hands.
personal experience tend to reduce a child's ability to use their imagination.
Just because you were never creative to begin with doesn't mean everyone will be like you.
Neverwinter Nights (online GMing), Sims or Garry's Mod say hi to imagination.
Well, it is starting now anyway. Games are becomming so increasingly horrible and cookie-cutter.. It wont be long untill we are all simply bored of games and take up base jumping!
Any game aimed at getting kids outdoors would surely be best to have its main goal being the kid turning it off. That, though, seems counterproductive to me, if trying to think as a game developer who is not making games for altruistic reasons.
We already have something to get kids to outside.
I call them ''boring games'', ''server maintenance'' and ''power gone''.
This article made me sad.
I never got outside much, I grew up with my mother and her parents and they were quite overprotective. Even though my first console was the N64, and I was already, what, thirteen when it came out? I wasn't much used to going outside. But I've always been a kid that prefers to stay inside and create worlds rather than discover them; I somehow doubt that, given the chance to go explore, I would take it. But that's not what makes me sad; what makes me sad is that there are probably millions of children out there, who are not like me, who would love to go out exploring, and just can't.
The world, in getting too kid-friendly, is getting very childhood-unfriendly.
I would also like to make a few pointes on child rearing and such.
"Free play" is (if I remember correctly) the term used by scientists to denote the rules free, imaginative, off-the-hook, kind of play taht children do if left to their opwn devices for more than fifteen seconds. I reacaall reading a study that showed correaltion between stress levels, memory, attention span and a few other things to that of the ammount of free play that the child indulged in. Granted this article was on Japanese children ad was more of a lament on the ammount of schooling they were forced into from an early agge, but I still find it relevant to point out that free play, and rough play, are very important for a child. It teaches about how to use their bodies, it strengthens ties and it teaches empathy for tohers thorugh the argumetns and hurts suffered. A computer game may well be a substitute for some of this (multiplayer and all that) but I would agree with Shigeru Miyamoto on the point that "if it's nice, go outside". Since a computer game, much like a game of football or even tag, have predefined rules that do not constitute to "free play".
I sort of forgot where I was going with this but...so there! I said something!
Many factors account for the current predicament, but the solution ultimately lies in two things happening:
1) Parents being willing to parent, which includes making the effort to understand their children.
2) Children being willing to play, which includes making their desires to their parents known.
The two share one thing in common: communication. Play-spaces are vanishing, the world is getting scarier, and new distractions arise every day, but I feel more than anything a growing disconnect between children and parents, a rift unique to our time due to the explosion of the Internet, needs fixing first.
Side Note: I enjoyed physical activity until I got my first NES and had some bad experiences with youth soccer. After that, my imagination swelled due to inspiration from games, and I satisfied my desire to "discover" by creating my own characters, worlds, and situations from simple toys, like those from McDonald's Happy Meals or those plastic mini-ninjas.
I only missed out on the social experiences, but no amount of "being outside" would had fixed the anxieties I dealt with throughout my childhood and teen years.
I run a blog called Playborhood.com that is all about children's play in neighborhoods. I've been taking some steps to make these urban street games happen right outside my front door.
For instance, I've changed my front yard into a front yard family room that has media center technology - a projector, computer, amp, speaker, and set-top box - embedded into a picnic bench. The projector projects on to part of a 30-foot long white board. The majority of that white board is for physical messaging - a real neighborhood "wall" like those Facebook walls. Right now, we project photos & DVDs, but the possibilities are vast.
My eventual idea (my oldest of three sons is 5, so I have time) is to make that screen into a neighborhood scoreboard for mobile social games, so that kids can use my front yard as a home base for mobile social games throughout the neighborhood.
I have soooo much more to say about all this...
Here, I'll just add that I also wrote an article called Video Games That Make You Run, Talk Face-to-Face, and Explore the Environment about the 2009 Come Out and Play Festival in New York.
This 'solution' does not adress parents' fear for letting their kids out.
I am lucky enough to live in a place where nature still exists, but I cant help but feel in awe of the possibilities for city-born folk to use these tools to play "in concrete".