MenagerieThe art of playing: The advent of the past, the ennui of the future
The art of playing: The advent of the past, the ennui of the future
October 26, 2012
October 26, 2012

Once, in the sepia tone of our memories, we see our five-year-old selves creeping under the dining table with our little plastic swords while the bad guys are lurking around the corner, guns at the ready. Barbie got kidnapped by the evil witch and Elmo commanded his pirate ship. Towels were our capes, and we are our very own superheroes.

And on particularly warm days – when Mum would allow us to play outside, sticks became our swords and the world was our playground. On one of those rare lucky days when we could get ahold of a piece of chalk or two, the pavement would burst with colorful animal drawings. Sticks and stones were the highlight of the typical afternoon pastime. A game of piko or patintero was something to look forward to and even with a nasty scrape on the knee, we would celebrate the win in the local store with a bottle (or plastic) of fizzy juice Pop Cola. Sometimes, we would catch a taste of summer rain washing away the sweat of the day. At night, it was in that magical space of time – snuggled underneath our rugged blankets – when we could finally pretend to be the knight or princess in our secret blanket castles, afraid of ghosts and demons from the night.

A few years passed and the world outside swallowed us further into its depths. Badminton matches and basketball games ate up most of our days, yet we would not dare pass up the chance to play a game of hide-and-seek once in a while. In solitude, we would close our eyes and feel the soft grass tickle our bare feet – feel as though the sunlight is drenching us in warm honey – and our hearts would swell with content. But as we grow we understand that the years we have spent playing around is what would be our foundation as we grow up to be adults; adults that would soon nurture their own young.
The professionals, the workers, the adults: the whole working force shapes society, but who shapes their minds? Is cultivating young minds still a necessary task of society, or has it left this job to someone much capable, like television? It seems almost surreal, this sudden shift in the weather.
So much has been taken away from the past and replaced with the silver-foil edge of nostalgia. Books, music and the media have kept up with the pace of the modern-day era and has left most of us, tradition enthusiasts, clawing and grasping at a bare minimum. There is hollowness in our gut, where little blissful butterflies once fluttered.

Our childhood was long ago, and today is another chapter – a dull and tedious one, at that. In this ever-changing world we live in, how could we shape the future of the younger generation?

Within the bustling metro, the ear-splitting sounds of arcade gunshots and blaring karaoke machines playing crap pop music echoes like wildfire throughout the night air. Everything now is as bland and rigid as it could get – all hard edges and stick-straight, like the tines of a fork. Where play has once been all about the blues, greens and browns of nature, the turn of the millennium has, instead, welcomed the sight of blinking screens and pixelated elves. Virtual guns and make-believe online realms are now the mother of chaos. Beeping Nintendos and other whizzing gizmos have been spoon-feeding our minds with passive learning – thus, rendering our imaginations completely non-existent.

According to the Sociological Theory of George Herbert Mead, the development of the mind is important for one’s critical thinking, and understanding the society and culture by explaining it through games, such as how a kid imitates his surroundings through the games he or she plays.

According to The LaSallian’s interview with Maria Judy San Juan of the Behavioral Science Department, the games we play have a meaning attached to them, and are not to be taken as they are. “Games are activities, or possibly social activities, but then it has meaning for the community if you deeply go down to its culture,” says San Juan.

“Games are reflective of the context of the society. Just like how a community is so developed, but shuns away technology, the game that is played is still traditional and vice versa,” she continues.
While most children are given the luxury of having many toys, which include gaming consoles, it is the actions of adults that are usually the ones bringing them to gaming heaven. *Ana Yap, a mother of two boys, shares how she sets a curfew for her boys’ gaming. She does not always succumb to their requests for a new game because “too many video games can cause eyesight problems,” while her husband focuses on his computer to finish the schematic diagrams for a project.

She encourages her children to play outdoor sports. “In this generation, everything is available and kids are knowledgeable even at a very young age,” she says. According to her, children today are lucky to have a lot of variety of toys, but during her time, nothing beats the experience of being on a swing. Compare that to contemporary button mashing.

The dawn of a playful era
Before birds and pigs became mortal enemies, and before plants developed unexplainable powers to fight zombies with, classic games running on black and white handy consoles defined one’s childhood. Let us take a look at some of the games that provide a context of society.

How can one fail to reminisce about the days when Tetris occupied the day’s hours? With its Russian origins, different shapes made up of four little squares fall down a well, and players have to keep it empty by creating lines that dissolve the menacing shapes. The game of Tetris never gets old. As an aside to the game’s unbeatable classic nature, the creators of Tetris Battle on Facebook added a multiplayer feature on the classic game and made a huge success out of it.

In the exciting world of arcade games, Pac-man remains the most popular one. The idea came from a man named Toru Iwatani, who had a light bulb moment, a breakthrough epiphany, while eating pizza.
For others, the genre of adventure games is represented by Mario Bros, wherein players journey through Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Toadstool as Mario and/or Luigi. The era of fighting games is embodied by games such as Street Fighter and the Tekken franchise. Versus modes allowed players to exhibit their inner martial art skills through various game characters and button smashing abilities to defeat their enemies.

When Nintendo released Gameboy, the portable console and the Pokémon video game series instantly became a hit. Gamers were busy collecting and battling their Pokémons to complete their Pokédex lists. The sons of Tamagotchi.

Of course, American companies like Electronic Arts (EA) did not ignore the cries of sports fanatics who demanded similar satisfaction. Games like NBA Live and FIFA series are still being improved and enjoyed by people across ages.

But one unique concept is replicating reality, replicating the actual social context one lives in. No one can ever forget how he or she spent months on living a virtual life with The Sims. Numerous expansions like Hot Date, Vacation, Superstar, and Medieval, have surfaced to give players more options in their virtual lives.

At present, though, games have taken a turn from single platform mouse or controller; pressing circular buttons is not the only way to play a game. Wii, XBox 360 Kinect and PlayStation Move allow players to experience gaming in a whole different level. Games developed for these consoles minimize couch-potato-gaming for they require huge body movements for the gameplay. Moreover, games on CDs are now being replaced and converted to apps that can run on iOS and Android platforms. It is safe to say that gaming has become more convenient and easy nowadays, and is no longer as ‘passive’.

We hardly recognized the change but, nevertheless, it was there, that different time away from all these games. Colors dissolved and the grays and whites of those blinking boxes took their place. The young, strained their eyes and backs – tap tap tapping furiously on those buttons and desperately wanting to reach another warzone level – so much so that the color leeched out of their skin after days of hiding from the sunlight. The younger the generation is, the more they are slowly brainwashed – zombified and fixated – by the noise and the wonder of it all. Their eyes never glaze over; we are robots sucked into an endless stream of energy and mania.

An end to the era?

The ennui of the modern day era is this: today a talking phone, tomorrow a wisecracking milk carton. We are “playing” with objects that ten years ago would scarcely have made sense. It is the alluring languor of this fast-paced progress of technology that is keeping us cooped up in our homes and glued to our thingamajigs. The morrow will present another new feast for our eyes – and, thus, make it harder for us to escape this addicting gaming field we find ourselves in.

We are happy. Or so we think. We are content to spend our lives with our orcs and elves, our warriors and fairies. We relish this stuff and coo over animated pixels. Yet, we are empty and hollow inside – devoid of real sense and imagination, unable to replicate Pixar or dream like Hideo Kojima.

For it is hard to think of a human function that has not been altered by modernization. The ennui of modern day era is this – that even something as simple and natural to us as ‘playing’ has been warped by technology, such that we now cannot conceive what it truly means to play. To play is to let the imagination run free, instead of letting it be held captive by a bleeping box. To play is to exert our mind and bones and sinew. To play is to have fun. To play is to live.

Every day is a new day for the world to cough up yet another gizmo to behold. And every day we risk losing ourselves and our sanity to inanimate things that do all the thinking and playing for us; convenient, but ultimately frightening. Unless we take control.