I can’t help but feel our thinking around play is hopelessly old fashioned. Slides, swings, monkey bars. It’s so retro. In the area of gaming a game system is considered retro if it is over 15 years old. How do we consider play equipment as having evolved so much? When does play equipment become retro? How has it evolved with the modern expectations of play?
This week I ran an interactive workshop for a class of Grade 3 children regarding play. Firstly I showed a series of 16 images depicting various forms of play, predominantly outdoors and including nature play, conventional play equipment, wheel sports (bmx, skate boarding etc) and a few other play typologies. Each image also contained people participating in that type of play. I asked the children to select the three images they thought ‘looked the most fun’.
There were two definite favourites. The first was an image of the Playford Alive Town Park playground right outside the Stretton Centre where we were located, a technology hub funded by Federal Government in the Playford Alive development. I understood that this might be fresh in the pupil’s minds and anticipated some interest.
The other image deemed to look most fun, which was a surprise, was an image of a playground constructed in Minecraft. The image also contained the Minecraft interface with recognisable components. To see that this artificial environment was deemed more fun than the other images of play opportunities says something profound about modern expectations of play amongst children. It wasn’t established if Minecraft was on the school curriculum.
The third most fun was an image of parkour. There is no parkour in the City of Playford. What was it about the image that was captivating the 7-8 year olds? It dawned on me that the parkour image depicted a series of multi levelled concrete cubes, which bore a great resemblance to the cubic constructions seen in Minecraft.
There was an all-round lack of interest in the images depicting nature play, despite strong backing within the industry to develop more nature play opportunities in recent years. It was hoped that by association of experience, the pupils would have an awareness of what nature play looked like. It may hint at a lack of nature play opportunities and experiences, amongst this particular group of pupils at least.
I feel the game industry is currently missing the opportunity to develop play outdoors. Are huge sales of throwaway game experiences in a global market the only thing in demand? What about games with local context developed specifically with locals in mind? This could be planned, funded and developed as a local attraction. Technology making experience of the outdoors (including nature play experiences) more accessible and appealing to an increasingly domesticated audience. This shouldn’t be confined to children either, far from it. The average gamer age is 33. A generation who grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Brothers, as oppose to Angry Birds and Minecraft.