When you think about it, the existence of this new product shouldn’t come as all that big a surprise. Still, it makes you pause a little bit.
The average child today can sit in front of a computer screen and play any of dozens of complicated video games with great dexterity. It’s child’s play.
But what does that child, a child of the video/computer terminal/modem era, not know how to do?
A company in Oshkosh, Wis., believes it has the answer.
The company, Video Trend Associates, recently released an instructional videotape called “The Games We Used to Play.” It is a training tape, a step-by-step course meant to teach a child how to do certain things.
Like play leapfrog. Shoot marbles. Play kick-the-can.
“Ever since Nintendo first came along, what it means to be a child has changed a lot,” said Ron Bullock, producer of the tape. “Children no longer really play the games that children have always played. They don’t see the value of those games.”
Bullock’s belief was that if today’s children could be taught the traditional American backyard games - simple, no-tech games that require nothing but energy and an occasional ball or marble - the children would walk away from their computers to a place where they would have more fun.
“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I didn’t have to be taught these games. We just sort of learned them without thinking about it, growing up in our neighborhood.
“But now kids aren’t learning these games.”
The 40-minute-long “The Games We Used to Play” videotape seeks to reverse this trend. To anyone who grew up prior to, say, the 1980s, the need for this how-to tape is at first astonishing - and to watch it disorienting. Children have to be taught this stuff?
But there is actor Dan Davies, host of the tape, working with a cast of children and demonstrating to viewers the nuts and bolts of leapfrog: “It is a great game. … Get four to 400 of your friends. Jump over each other’s backs to the winning line.” The children on the tape do just that - play leapfrog on a sunny afternoon, as if it is the most fun in the world.
Which, indeed, it can be. “Stickball is like baseball,” Davies says on the tape. “Get three to six of your best friends. Split them up into teams. First base can be a tree. …” Or: “Kick-the-can has been around for more than 100 years. All you need is a can and a piece of chalk. Draw a big circle. …”
There are 15 games featured on the video, including jacks, red light green light, and duck-duck-goose. The one thing all of the games have in common is that they require a bunch of children to play them. A child by himself or herself can sit in a chair and play a video game for hours on end, but to play these games on the tape a child has to go outside the house, round up some other children and actually play - play in the sense that “play” used to be defined.
“Video consoles are fine, and video games are fine,” Bullock said. “But back yards are fine, too - and real games are fine. We shouldn’t let children grow up without knowing that.”
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