In 1969 Iona and Peter Opie published Children’s Games in Street and Playground, which cataloged more than 10,000 children’s games in the UK. Today, one would have difficulty finding more than a few dozen.
Playgrounds have been around for 250 years and have not changed their core function – to provide apparatus for children to play on. The equipment provided is predominately devoted to active play. There is no provision for games other than chase and tag.
In addition to apparatus for active play, parks also provide fields and courts for sports. These facilities are scaled and equipped for adults. While popular in Asia and the EU, tables for games are rare in America and are used primarily by adults.
Urban planners cite the need for community infrastructure that is play-friendly, and there are a few neighborhoods that have been created with this intent. However, the overwhelming urban and suburban landscape is hostile to children’s play.
From time immemorial, the lives of children have focused on two activities, doing stuff, and playing games. While kids can do stuff by themselves, they couldn’t play games alone until the advent of computers. In just 50 years, childhood has been utterly transformed. Today children can, and many do only play with computers exclusively and not with other children. In the last decade, multiplayer games have become available to kids. Today video game’s global revenue is $180 billion, while movie and sports combined revenue is $100 billion.
Many parents worry about the amount of time their children spend staring at screens. Most studies that look for the impact of screen time do not find much that is demonstrably harmful. I maintain, these studies are looking for the wrong outcomes.
What has been lost is child created culture. Games have become packaged commodities that are designed intentionally to be addictive. While there is no proof that first-person shooter games turn children into killers, it is true that spending time mowing down enemies is not time spent playing mumbly peg, mother may I, or kick the can.
The growth of video games tells us that children’s innate need for games is alive, if not well. In the previous blog, I outline the Pirate’s Treasure Hunt game. While this is fun, it is still structured by adults with known outcomes. As we begin to go beyond inclusion to empowerment, the goal must be that the ambient digital platform is controlled by the children using the system.
Will this be easy to implement? Will the outcome be knowable? No and no. Will kids have fun? Will we learn something? Yes, and yes.
In this series, we will provide ideas about how such a platform can be created and immersively played.