Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Hidden Playground: New Article in The Escapist

This week's issue of The Escapist is on the theme of "Healthy Living," and explores various ways that gaming can be a part of (rather than a detriment to) a healthy lifestyle. I'm happy to have my article on outdoor play, the free-range kids movement, and portable/ARG game hybrids included in what has turned out to be a fascinating issue that covers both a number of serious health issues (obesity, vitamin D deficiency) relevant to gamers & non-gamers alike, as well as a number of ways that games (e.g. exer-games, Wii, portable gaming devices, fitness games) can be used to promote fitness, physical therapy and outdoor play.

Here's an overview of the contents with direct links to the articles:
Editor's Note by Jordan Deam

The Hidden Playground by Yours Truly

Gamer-Size Me by Craig Owens

Step Into the Light by Chris LaVigne

Waggle Therapy by Lauren Admire

I mentioned awhile back that I was working on a longer article examining how an emerging game genre combining portable game devices, wifi and some of the traditions established within alternate reality games (ARGs) might be used to promote free-range and outdoor play...and this is it. In the article, I propose that while many parents and kids would like to reclaim urban and suburban space for outdoor and "free-range" play, decades of moral panics, housebound latchkey kids, sedentary bedroom culture, stranger danger and family unfriendly urban design have depleted the play opportunities available in many (most?) neighborhoods and city blocks. Of course, given enough time and freedom, kids will find ways to play almost anywhere. But for right now, lack of practice along with the enduring social construction of "public space" as unwelcoming to the kinds of shenanigans most conducive to free play, might combine to make that reclamation a bit trickier than some parents/kids might expect.

My article examines how games like The Hidden Park (for iPhone) and Treasure World (for the Nintendo DS) (while not a substitute for non-digitally-enhanced outdoor play) might be used as "seeing stones" through which public spaces can be "opened up" to play, and made available for those more imaginative and autonomous forms of play that kids enjoy and benefit from most. By breaking down existing definitions of what an urban or suburban landscape is, how it should be experienced and what kids are expected to do there, I argue that these types of games put forth "a direct challenge to the idea that public space is inappropriate and dangerous for kids." Once this space is opened up, so is the play potential.

I use the motif of the "seeing stone" in reference to a number of great fairy tales and kids' books that focus on adventure and the invisible magic that exists all around us, which also acts as fuel for imaginative make-believe play and games. Here's the description from the article:
Imagine this emerging genre as the digital equivalent of a "seeing stone." The seeing stone shows up in a number of modern fairytales, including Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's The Spiderwick Chronicles and Neil Gaiman's Coraline. A primitively carved totem, its key feature is the eye-sized hole in its center. By looking through this hole, the children in these stories are able to see aspects of the world that are usually invisible to humans: magic, fairies, portals to other dimensions, ghosts and goblins and even other people's souls. The idea that the world around us is much more magical than it seems has clear links with childhood traditions of outdoor play and make-believe.

I also wanted to provide some links to some of the sources mentioned or that inspired the article, and here's as good a place as any:

Lenore Skenazy's FreeRange Kids

Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood

Roger Ebert's Raising free-range kids

Henry Jenkins' Complete Freedom of Movement

Kotaku interview with Miyamoto

Hope you enjoy the article!

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