Tag Archives: play

‘Fun gifts for boys’ and the geographies of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’ and ‘cool’

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

As manufacturers and retailers prepare to sell huge quantities of toys and gadgets in the run up to Christmas, at least one seven-year-old girl has protested this week at the marketing of such products according to gender.

Karen Cole tweeted a photo of her daughter, Maggie, next to a sign for Marvel Comics merchandise in a branch of Tesco that read ‘Fun gifts for boys’.

7-year-old Maggie not impressed with 'fun girts for boys' sign

Maggie, who is a big fan of Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Doctor Who, spotted the sign and told her mother that Tesco was “being stupid” as “anybody can like superheroes”. The photo was retweeted more than ten thousand times, forcing an apology and the removal of the signs from all Tesco stores.

These superhero characters and toys are clearly important to lots of children like Maggie; it is this relationship, alongside the role played by popular culture characters and products in children’s lives, that John Horton seeks to examine in a recent edition of Geography Compass. The paper calls for “more direct, careful, sustained research on geographies of children, young people and popular culture.”

Horton outlines ‘classic’ works from cultural and media studies, which, he contends, have been “centrally concerned with meanings of popular culture designed for children and young people”. The likes of Barbie and GI Joe, Horton argues, have often been central to such discussions, with Barbie being widely critiqued as “a ‘condensed’ representation of normative ideals of ‘emphasised femininity’ and female body image”.

While Horton recognises the value and importance of this kind of work, he argues that “if one jumps to write about meanings of popular culture, it is all too easy to overlook how popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena matter in practice within people’s everyday geographies.”

Horton presents an analysis of ‘Toys ‘Я’ Us’ brochures old and new, but reflects that in attempting to write about their meanings and representations “I have suppressed (or at least distanced myself from) what I felt as I browsed the 1975 Toys ‘Я’ Us catalogue and other decades-old toy catalogues: feelings of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’, ‘cool’, ‘I remember that’, that are not easy to put into words.”

Geography, then, has an important role to play in addressing questions of both meaning and Mattering in this context. This involves examining the more-than-representational ways in which popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena are encountered and experienced by children in a diverse range of everyday spaces.

As Horton acknowledges, this raises important questions of how to conduct research attentive to both the political-representational concerns of the sort quite rightly raised by superhero-loving Maggie, and to the complex nonrepresentational materialities that constitute young people’s geographies – the ‘awws’, ‘wows’ and ‘cools’ evoked by the bodily practices of play, the meanings of which may not be sayable or may simply not exist.

 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove ‘stupid’ sign suggesting superheroes are ‘for boys’ The Independent, 25 November 2014

 John horton, 2014, For Geographies of Children, Young People and Popular CultureGeography Compass 726-738

Hide&Seek: Geographies of Play, Gaming and Exploring the City

Sarah Mills

This weekend (9th-11th July) an annual games festival will be taking place in the urban landscapes of London, based at the National Theatre.  The ‘Hide&Seek Weekender’ invites participants to re-think what constitutes as gaming, play, the city and ‘reality’ through location-based gaming.  This involves real-life tasks combined with geo-location technologies.  Activities include ‘visible cities’, a hide and seek game around the South Bank, and ‘silent relay’ – involving a choreographed mp3 soundtrack linked up to players in Berlin.  This event brings together local knowledge and geographical investigations with fun, play and imagination, with the organisers describing themselves as “a studio of game designers and event organisers who want people to play more games in new ways”.

In the latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, James Ash examines the links between materiality, technology and spatiality through the concept of ‘teleplastic technologies’, specifically through the example of video-gaming.  In an analysis of the video-game ‘Lego Star Wars’, Ash highlights the role of involuntary memory, consciousness and ‘ethological markers’ in the game’s puzzle-solving tasks.  Ash also explores users’ notions of sensory stimulus, action, and pseudo-digital bodily movements in the video-game ‘Burnout 3’.  Although focusing on video-gaming technologies, Ash discusses the broader sensory and corporeal dimensions of play and gaming and what these mean for the “potential and possibilities for spatial sense”.  These connections and technological engagements are clearly demonstrated in the aims of the ‘Hide&Seek’ festival taking place this weekend.

Read James Ash (2010) ‘Teleplastic technologies: charting practices of orientation and navigation in video-gaming’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (3): 414-430

Visit The Hide&Seek Festival: http://www.hideandseek.net/

Read ‘Come and Play Hide&Seek in London’ in The Guardian