Memorable Family FunGiven their prevalence today, it’s remarkable that video games have been in existence for just 40 years. What has evolved—children spending an average eight to nine sedentary hours per day in front of a video screen—was not part of the inventor’s plan.
“It’s sad, in some regards,” says Ralph H. Baer, “the father of video games” who introduced the rudimentary game of Pong in 1972. “I thought we would be helping families bond together in the living room; the opposite has happened.” For those of us that pine for the era when our mothers would send us outside in the morning with a sandwich in a bag and a canteen full of water—with orders not to come inside until dinner time—it’s gratifying to know an old-fashioned childhood need not be committed to memory. Games, the real ones played outdoors, are alive and well.
“One of the great things about the games we played is that most of them are free, or one-time, lifetime purchases,” says actress Victoria Rowell, co-author of a book that offers an antidote to the video game revolution, Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games.
Families can easily find the makings for all sorts of outdoor family fun. Play tug-of-war with any sturdy rope, or take turns swinging two flexible ropes for a spot of double Dutch, a game brought to New York City from Holland by early settlers. A large elastic band becomes a Chinese jump rope. Tree twigs or small branches work for stickball or double ball, a game played by native peoples on this continent hundreds of years before Jamestown or Plymouth Rock. Larger tree limbs can be cut into eight-to-10-inch sections for use in mölkky, a popular Finnish tossing contest that is gaining favor here (move over corn hole).
Several games only require a ball, and many more don’t require any apparatus at all. Think of the copycat games such as Follow-the-Leader or Red Light/Green Light, or the Hide ’n Seek games, Fox and Hound, Ghost in the Graveyard and Capture the Flag. They offer as many variations on a theme as they do hours of exercise, communing with nature, conflict resolution and unstructured, untallied play.
We’ll never get all the way back to the time when neighborhoods and the games we played were children’s only babysitters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give it the old college try.