Where Are the Couch Potatoes?

Let’s face it. Technology has permanently changed the way we play, children and adults alike. Kids can power up a Nintendo DS and instantaneously find hours of amusement in a metallic box no bigger than their little hands. We can access day-long marathons of our favorite television programs at the click of a button. Our phones serve as portable amusement centers, and, in a few seconds, you can download the addictive game Angry Birds, inevitably sapping both your free time and battery life. All this, not to mention the Internet, a veritable feast of games, videos, blogs, and other delicious, downloadable morsels, and of course the most infamous time vacuum of them all, Facebook. Why would anyone ever get up from the couch when all of these miraculous, effortless, stress- and sweat-free activities are so readily available? Who would blame us if we all morphed into immobile, albeit very content, couch potatoes?

The threat of eternal inactivity looms, a possibility almost as frightening as the thought of going an entire day without checking up on all 546 of your Facebook friends’ status updates. And yet, I have hope that we have not yet descended into permanent couch-potatodom. True, playtime has changed, and the couch certainly does not go lonely, but perusing the America at Play: Play Stories website proves that we still love to get up and move; play is anything but stationary.

In a handful of these videos, adults express concern for the current generation. “I think it [play] has changed a lot now,” muses the creator of Confessions of a Kid. “Before, play was something that was active. It was physical. It was a bonding experience. It was a way to make friends and keep friends.” He implies that electronic games, television shows, and other similar activities have the potential to detract from the active and interactive aspects of play. I began to wonder. Has playtime changed beyond recognition? Do kids today bond more with their PlayStations and computer screens than they do with their peers? I have found that though the videos on the America at Play website provide only a limited glimpse at play, they paint a very optimistic picture.

The website asks video creators to recount a favorite play memory, more specifically a story of playing with friends. Of the nearly 100 videos posted on the website thus far, not a single story focuses solely on video games, television, or computers, and only two even mention electronics. Looking back, teenagers and adults fondly remember rowdy games of kickball; imaginative espionage exploits à la Spy Kids; a challenging obstacle course with neighborhood friends; a backyard performance; and “sklading,” a game that fused skateboarding and sledding. Even more revealing are the stories that children tell of their favorite games and activities. They use their imaginations. They pretend to be playful golden retrievers, make up stories to act out on the playground, and chase make believe aliens around the house. They are active; they tell tales of jumping on trampolines, horseback riding, sledding, and Zumba dancing. They love board games, swing sets, markers, cardboard companions, Lego bricks, and squirt guns. Though the same kids undoubtedly cherish their Nintendo Wii consoles and watch Hannah Montana religiously, those are not their fondest memories, and certainly not their only activities. So have no fear. Our couches are, I am happy to report, more vacant than we realize.

However, staying active isn’t easy. The couch has a powerful lure, and we sometimes need to make a conscious effort to prevent spud syndrome from setting in. So the next time you find yourself logging your 845th consecutive hour on Facebook or spending an entire Sunday glued to your television, remind yourself to get up, get out, and get active. Go play and make some unforgettable memories.

Have a play story to share? You too can tell your tale of victory over the couch! Visit http://aap.museumofplay.org to find out how.