The Bleeding Edge of Play

That's me on the right at the 2009 Come Out and Play Festival in Times Square, New York, playing 'Paparazzi.' What fun!!!  photo: Guy Chan

We parents who advocate for our children to play more often fall into the nostalgia trap.

We end up wishing, in effect, that our kids could just step into a time machine and get transported to our old neighborhood, free of digital electronics inside the house and myriad structured activities outside.

This can be paralyzing because, well, this is 2010, not 1970 or 1980 or 1990.

Well, last year I saw the bleeding edge of play, and I’m happy to say, it’ll get our kids to do things we want them to do – run, talk to people face-to-face, and get deeply immersed in their physical outdoor surroundings.

You can see it, too. It’s at the Come Out and Play (COaP) Festival in Brooklyn, June 4 – 6. Last year’s COaP in midtown Manhattan was a total, total blast! I played six location-based games, most of which required use of a GPS-enabled mobile phone like my iPhone. “GPS” stands for Global Positioning System. This technology enables applications on your mobile phone to know where you are, so they can show you a map with you on it.

All other applications on electronic devices (e.g. Facebook, video games, email, texting, web browsing) are “location-independent” because you have the same exact experience wherever you are, in your house or on another continent. On the other hand, location-based games like the ones showcased at COaP are “location-dependent.” They make you very aware of the people and place around you. In fact, when you use one of these applications, anything that’s far away from you becomes irrelevant. It’s as if you had no technology in your hands at all, except, believe it or not, a good location-based game can make you much more aware of the people and place around you.

What’s more, these location-based games make you run. Lots. Last year, I got a huge workout playing chase games in midtown Manhattan and Seek n Spell on Pier 84. I also walked a good portion of Central Park playing Hidden Park.

This year’s COaP looks even better. Go to Come Out and Play’s web site to see the lineup of games. Not all of them are mobile phone-based, but they all look innovative and lots of fun.

So, if you think this new genre of games is interesting, what should you do? Well, if you can break away from your family for a weekend, I suggest that you come out to COaP in Brooklyn on June 4 – 6. Whether you do that or not, try out games in this genre like Seek n Spell, Hidden Park, and SCVNGR. I’ll be posting about the games I learn about at COaP after I return.

Because this is the “bleeding edge” of play, I don’t expect this genre of games to change your kids’ lives today. However, I do expect that they will become very big in 2-5 years. So, for those of you parents who have children less than 10 years old or so, these games have the potential to make a big difference in their childhood.

And oh, by the way, I just might be working to develop some of these games.

Stay tuned…

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One Response to The Bleeding Edge of Play

  1. Daniel says:

    Can’t wait to visit and come out and play in the Big City!

    Also, with perfect timing, Richard Louv just recently wrote a piece challenging us to rethink our conceptions of technology and nature. As he writes, technology isn’t the antithesis of nature – but rather, it is, and always has been (in its many, changing forms), an entry tool to nature. What a fishing pole or toy gun was to past generations, a GPS-enabled phone may be for this generation.

    The piece is well worth a read: