Video game consoles have increasingly replaced playgrounds. Kids spend countless hours in front of a screen, hours that our parents spent playing outside. Neighborhood playgrounds have increasingly become empty, as they are no longer grounds for the kid’s imagination. They are no longer fortresses to conquer or castles to fight for against the kid next door, as the battle is now taking place in their Nintendo. Overweight, social apathy and less powerful imagination skills are just a few of the consequences in this shift. But are video games the real enemy of playgrounds? Maybe not.
Leaving aside the role of parents in promoting a healthier lifestyle for their kids, how can we get playgrounds to be interesting again? How can we reconcile video games with outdoor fitness (and fun)? The answer is again, serious games. Motivation plays a significant role in the adherence of exercise routines –this goes for all those adults who drop the gym in February-. Repetitive physical activity for the mere sake of fitness (or appearance) has lower rates of long term motivation sustainability, and even more so in children (Kankaanranta & Neittaanmäki, 2009).
Digiplay (courtesy of Lappset Group, Ltd)
The rise and success of indoor fitness games (Wii Fit, Nike+Kinect, Dance Central, etc.) shows that people can be engaged in physical activity through gaming. So why not take it outdoors? Some companies such as Finland-based Lappset are already designing “modern playgrounds” to encourage fitness and active interaction with the installations in the form of quizzes oriented to improving your reflexes, sports practice or dancing, like Sona, an interactive dance floor to play outdoors.
Other big players such as Sony or Nokia have already started researching the possibilities regarding outdoor gaming, paying special attention to GPS solutions, and the success of GPS-based games like Geocaching, fuels this hope. But more can be done. In general, these interactive playgrounds and GPS based games lack the plot and rewards that video games are so good at delivering, with the possible exception of Ingress. Through the development of serious games that integrate these elements, into real-life versions of Minecraft, Zelda or Here Be Dragons, kids might be chasing magical creatures and defeating pirates in the future playgrounds.