Nature, childhood, Pokemon.

I read an introduction to a book filled with suggestions for back-to-nature activities for children. The book is very good and all, but it felt a need to start by decrying the contemporary (first-world, comfortable) childhood filled with “virtual worlds of Pokemon and Digimon.” There are a couple of ironies to that charge: first, that Pokemon’s rhetoric of legitimization included a lament for the loss of places of free exploration for (Japanese) children growing up in tower blocks in urban environments: the game was seen as partial compensation for the disappearing experience of youthful discovery in nature. (That rhetoric is a common one in Japanese game design.) The mechanics of Pokemon were drawn from a tradition of collecting and cataloging stag beetles, and setting them against each other in contests. Pokemon was a palliative response to the condition, not its cause. 

The second irony is that the activities in the book are themselves compensatory: the activities are supervised, structured, and involve an adult creating a managed experience usually involving crafts. Henry Jenkins’ classic article on video-games as (gendered) spaces of play focused on how vital unsupervised play and exploration was: many children still get curated and organized “exposure” to nature, but have lost the opportunities for social self-organization and development that used to be available to them. Virtual environments and game culture still offer this to them, and few of the critics provide alternatives in the “wild” which truly allow children to gather and self-organize without supervision.

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