I wish I could remember who made me think this recently, because I want to say: Thank you for making me think of something in a new, or at least expanded, way.
This Whomever Person (certainly not one of the Tomorrow People) brought up one of those frequent reports in the news about those kids today with their computer games and their MySpaces. The report took kids to task for not going out to play anymore; "those lazy kids" was the undertone. The person I heard (again, I can't remember who) suggested this: they're not really welcome to go out and play anymore. They're getting a repeated message from the society at large, and the message is Don't go out.
Whether it's out of a societal sense of protection ("Predators out there will grab our kids!") or of a society simply not liking or trusting young people ("those kids are going to break and ruin stuff, all making noise with their skateboards and their hip-hop"), I think that's a big factor: a lot of adults simply don't want kids around and about. And those are the people who are running society, calling the shots and all that; yes, I'd say we've been taken over by the Get Off My Lawn Brigade.
Metaphorically speaking, kids don't have as many lawns to play on anymore.
I've long been a walker; it really became my habit 'round 1981 (age 7) when we lived in Camarillo, California, and Mom and Dad allowed me to walk more widely than I had before. I also used to be a climber, earlier: we had a tree in the backyard of our Rancho Bernardo house, plus a slope, and I climbed both. (I was better at climbing the slope. At least once in the tree, I got stuck.) Fast-forward to high school age: I was living in Oakton, Virginia, in a suburban subdivision (its road names inspired by Tolkien locales) off of Stuart Mill Road and with woods all around. I went along those roads and through those woods often. Sometimes I was taking pictures; and, admittedly, sometimes I was semi-sort-of-looking for the mythical stash of Playboys supposedly hidden in those woods ("mythical" because I think many suburban kids near woods start to believe that; actor/comic Patton Oswalt grew up one county over from me in Ashburn and he's talked about trying to find that porn-stash, too); but plenty of times I was exploring for the sake of exploring. Look into those woods and clearings in the right direction at the right moment and it was easy to imagine, say, a Civil War troop encampment there. So I walked. I'd sometimes walk a few miles total, being very aware of traffic because there were no sidewalks. (I still remember a time I walked along the sidewalk-less Fox Mill Road all the way to the nearest shopping center and back, and a corpulent middle-aged man in a van driving the opposite direction saw me and flipped me off for no reason at all.) Sometimes after being in the woods, I'd emerge in someone's backyard or sideyard; the way my neighborhood was laid out, about half the yards had no fences, so getting to the street was quick if furtive work. I'd move quickly.
Starting to do the same thing now would likely entail jumping fences. What other obstructions would I have? They're a little too easy to imagine: barbed wire, attack dogs, angry people, angry people maybe with security systems, angry people maybe with cameras, angry people maybe with guns...increasingly unlikely possibilities, but there's always that chance. (The Newberg, Oregon man who saw me in a parking lot with my camera -- this was in the mid-Nineties -- and yelled at me "You point that at me and I'm breaking it!" is the sort of person I'm picturing here. By the way, oy, was that man full of himself; he reacted purely to my looking in the direction where he happened to be standing while I had my camera near, but not at, eye-level.) I already had the walking habit, and knew it was a good habit, but I also became ever more aware of obstacles. Had I not had that habit, maybe the negative reinforcement I'd be hearing would've compelled me not to develop that habit.
That Whomever Person may have changed my mind about something. I'm not a gamer; my experience is mostly limited to the Eighties glory of the Atari 2600 (Enduro, yo!) and Infocom text adventures, with some console-play in the early Nineties (my college dorms had tournaments of NFL Football and, later, Mortal Kombat). Obviously I make much use of computers, but not for games, so I'm not in touch with young people's gaming culture. I hear those "kids today" reports, at first blush I'd be inclined to agree: y'know, damn cryin' shame those kids aren't out playing and exploring... But if they're not welcome to play and explore, if the way our world is set up makes it harder to go out to play and explore, would they do it? Would I keep doing it? You don't have to know much about human nature to know that if something's discouraged and made difficult to do, people are likely to stop doing it. Which makes me understand the gaming culture a little better: Here's something they are encouraged to use, something they're encouraged to get proficient at, something they can explore (and, with games like Second Life, actually build), something with a language they can learn and use ("Schooled!" "Owned! "Pwned!" ...which are probably out-of-date or at least vintage, like "Flawless, Victory!") and a social dynamic (often a great and fun one; I know from those college tourneys) they can experience. It's something they can make theirs.
(I made walking one of my things. I wax eloquent about it. I know there are people who also wax eloquent about games. I think I want to hear some of that waxing-eloquent.)
And the gaming culture keeps them inside where they're not going to run into the people who'd be bothered by their being there.
I know there are all sorts of reasons (real and possible) for these issues. A big one: Game companies know the audience for games is rabid and focused, and they get the message out to those people (again, mostly young people) in all sorts of ways so that they either buy Game X or get their parents to buy Game X. The culture around the different games and different consoles is thus given an encouraging push; it's built up to be The Thing To Do. But I still think it would've been The Thing To Do, to at least a certain extent, without the huge marketing push. (Tangential example: I doubt the Disney Channel really planned for the TV movie High School Musical to be such a breakout hit, but the huge popularity of it seems almost organic; I don't think it was a manufactured phenomenon, but once it was a phenomenon, the Disney machinery that's in place to keep phenomena going was applied to High School Musical (including what I hear is a pretty fun sequel and, *shudder*, an ice show), but that's Disney making the best of the opportunity once there was such an opportunity.) But are we going to be positive about the world, or negative about it?
Because I want to be an encourager, not a discourager. I want to see what's positive about what people are doing and say "Good! Keep it up!"
This still feels a little unformed, even though I started writing it about a week-and-a-half ago (I started on the 13th; today is the 24th). Still, I'll put it out there. Thoughts? Disagreements?