An apology to the followers of this blog, as I have not posted for a couple of weeks. In my defense, I have quite literally fallen down the rabbit hole.
Those of you who have checked out my history will note that I have moved progressively through several phases:
- Play Sculpture
- Build Your Playground (book, DeYoung exhibit)
- Wood play systems (BigToys, Kompan)
- Metal play systems (PlayBoosters, Kid Builders)
- X-game type challenges (BoldR, Rocks, and Ropes)
- Indoor (Gymboree)
I have been an advocate for inclusive play throughout this journey. I contributed to the Play For All Guidelines and hugely supported the Magical Bridge Foundation.
Over the past couple of years, I have been exploring and advocating for loose-part play systems, especially those exemplified by Anji Play.
I had hoped to launch a loose-part play product and came up with a system that is a large-scale version of Magformers. That product is viable, and I’d be happy to share the details with any company interest in bringing it to market. However, at 80, I simply must pick my projects carefully and don’t have the time to pioneer another product. I must select the most impactful project possible.
Play in Cyberspace
Here’s the deal. The playground business is likely worth a billion dollars annually. Cyber gaming is worth at least a hundred times that much. That means if you are serious about the value and importance of play, you must look closely at what is going on in that realm. I have been studying this, and it has been a real Alice in Wonderland adventure. Let me share some of what I’ve found.
While the whole subject is mind-boggling, my focus is the impact on children, especially those between 5 to 10 years of age. The reason for this emphasis is that these years have clearly defined and well-established critical periods. When designing play systems, we must use these inflection points to select and configure physical apparatus that will trigger specific behaviors to elicit vestibular, balance, proprioceptive and sensory stimulation that builds connections and integrates the child’s brain and body. The concern is that video games designed to maximize kids’ engagement are likely disrupting some aspects of normal development with unknown effects.
As a society, we are concerned that young children are shielded from spending too much “screen time.” Unfortunately, the reality is that cyber-play has greatly overtaken physical play. While there is handwringing about this issue, play advocates have a real lack of concern. That is not to say, and there has been no work in this area. It is just not coming from those who are close to the playworker community. I have been reaching out to my friends in this area with the notion of forming a “Play Advocates Cohort.” More on this effort in a subsequent post.
The cyber-world in general and digital games are dedicated to “hooking” users in order to monetize their attention. While this is not a big concern for those older than 15 years, the younger the children are when exposed to digital games, the more potential for damaging impact.
Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle on this. There is just no way a family with two working adults will completely control kids’ access to multimedia entertainment.
Since 2003, Common Sense Media has been doing yeoman’s work in curating children’s media. As a resource for parents, it is unapparelled. That said, they don’t address the deeper issues about the developmental impact of media in general.
If you would like to drop down the rabbit hole with me, I want to recommend several deep dives into this subject:
This is the most accessible article on the impact of Augmented Reality (AR) that I have found. Furthermore, it is the entry point for my current project, creating a Metaverse to overlay physical playgrounds.
Read this to understand the ethical and cultural impacts of virtual gaming. I guarantee you will be transfixed with the complexity of this discussion.
Finally, this article shows why it is not so much the content of cyber gaming, as it is the issue that Marshall McLuhan articulated so well; “the Medium is the Message.”
So, dear reader, hop to it and do your homework. Over the next few posts, we will continue to explore what is involved in creating the Metaverse Playground.