Ideas We Love: Digitize the Outdoors

Danielle published an op-ed at TheRoot recently that took a critical look at the consequences of the sedentary lifestyles led by today’s youth which perpetuate poor health outcomes. Let’s face it, kids are unhealthy partly because they don’t get up and move anymore (hence the First Lady’s campaign). Danielle has been meeting with White House officials to strategize about ways to entice kids off of the couch… which of course has me thinking about it too.

When we were young, we ripped and ran, and played outside from the moment morning cartoons ended until the street lights came on. I had the flyest purple and white BMX bike with pegs, and a red scooter that I sped around on for years. And since my backyard was one of the largest in the neighborhood (and backed up to a wooded creek area), my house was the hot spot for massive rounds of TV tag and hide-and-go-seek all summer long. I was an active kid, to say the least, all the way through high school.

But that was back in the day when kids played analog games. Remember…

  • Hand games (I was a beast at Concentration & Slide!)
  • Double-dutch
  • Super Soaker battles
  • Slip-n-Slides
  • Bike races…

And all those other fun things we used to do outside with our friends at recess and after school?

Today kids live in a digitized world full of HD, 3D, and virtual reality that literally builds a world of entertainment around them with the push of a button, and then satisfies any inkling of curiosity on-demand. So it’s no wonder they don’t move!

Hell, I can’t even work out on the elliptical machine for five minutes without being glued to the attached HD TV and checking my Facebook on my iPhone. So how can anyone waive a finger at young people to put down their video games and ride a bike?

The video game industry is often blamed for the uptick in the sedentary indoor child trend. But should we really be blaming video games for the problem or viewing them as the solution? Wii is bringing families together and getting them moving after all.

As Danielle reports in her new blog today about her latest White House meeting, health and environmental advocates alike are lost in the fog of the 20th century trying to coax kids outside to “connect with nature”. They want them to “explore” and get some exercise (*yawn).

This is analog thinking in a digital world.

Instead, why not look to the gamers to digitize the outdoors and make parks and recreation entertaining again?

Earlier this month, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy held a briefing with 21st century childhood-game designers and environmental education advocates to discuss the idea. From Danielle’s blog:

“Games could help turn a regular park into a storybook,” said one game aficionado. It can’t be negated that the popularity of the Olympic National Forest went through the roof once the movie Twilight was released. That’s the power of media, and arguably the power of games. Several agencies across the US government currently fund game development and research programs, but there has been little coordinated effort to target games that get kids to [parks and] public lands.

With the rate of childhood obesity among black and Latino kids approaching 40%, we clearly need some fresh approaches to get kids moving. I definitely think it’s worth the investment!

Let’s innovate!