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Meet the East London start-up encouraging young people to turn OFF their mobile phones

What would the world be like if we forgot how to play? What would it mean if we forgot the traditional games that shape our culture? And what does seeing the world though a screen mean for the development of our children?

With our worlds becoming ever more digitised – and at an earlier age than ever before, too – these are among some of the most pressing questions for people working in education, development and play.

Digital childhoods

Some of the statistics are eye-opening: according to a recent Nielsen Study, more than 70% of children under 12 use tablets. A recent report in the Pediatrics Journal found children younger than 30-months ‘cannot learn from television and videos as they do from real-life interactions’, and that using a mobile device at that age can be ‘detrimental to the social-emotional development of the child.’

It is against this landscape that PlayFinders launched in London on Tuesday 31 May. The social enterprise start-up will allow people to join a community and upload traditional – non-digital – types of games and play, then ‘pin’ them to a crowdsourced map. Users can also upload how-to guides, and their very own personal memories of play.

‘Growing up in North Lincolnshire, my fondest memories were playing outside in the open air. Simple games, with either friends or family. Obviously, many children today are lucky to have access to digital devices and the internet from a really early age, but this can come at a price. I know how much better I feel when I take regular breaks from the internet and looking down at a screen. I think it’s something we all recognise really.

‘PlayFinders has been built because we don’t want to forget the games and play we used to play. This will be a growing archive of traditional types of games and play. The PlayFinders site we are launching in May is just the start, we hope this not-for-profit will mean young people speak to elders about games and play, and it will help to start a movement of people playing away from screens. We believe playing is one of the best ways for us all to learn who we are, it’s a crucial building block of creativity, and it’s fun too!’

PlayFinders Founder

PlayFinders has two goals: to create a legacy of games and play that ensures that the games our families and ancestors used to play are passed down to future generations and to encourage today’s children to try out both traditional games from the past and types of play from around the world.

This means traditional games will be recorded and not lost in our digitised world. It means people from different cultures will be able to understand childhood across borders, and it will start cross-generational dialogues through play. The PlayFinders team also hopes the project will become a useful resource for parents, teachers and researchers.

A Wiki-How of play

Over time, the project will grow to become a Wiki-How of play, dedicated to traditional games and memories.

The idea was born as part of the British Council’s Elevate Challenge., which set the challenge: what can we do to get more young people from around the world playing non-digital games?

Although this had an international scope, the challenge had its roots in East Asia and Japan, where digital gaming is mostly deeply entrenched.

More than 300 people submitted ideas, but PlayFinders was one of the ideas selected to be part of the Elevate Challenge fellowship. This meant a two-week long residency in Japan, play safaris around Tokyo, leading presentations, meeting play experts, creating an experience for children in Yamaguchi and allowing the PlayFinders team to gain a deep understanding about the importance of play.

After the Japan trip, PlayFinders was selected as one of the top three ideas from the Elevate Challenge. Following another research trip, PlayFinders will launch with games and play memories from Japan, Brazil and around the United Kingdom.

What can be uploaded?

Users will be able to upload their rulebooks, images and memories of play. The only rule is that the games and play uploaded does not use digital

The search function will be dynamic, too. It will allow parents, teachers and educators to find the right type of play for whatever scenario they need. What this means is the search function will be linked to the tags; users will be able to search for types of play for a rainy day, for group play, for solo play and other tagged categories.

‘Games and play are integral to education and should be valued more highly. I’ve worked in theatre for a long time, and I know the impact simple drama games and play can have on people – on how they interact, how happy they are and how they learn. We’re not saying digital is bad – I’m a huge gamer and film geek after all! – it’s just about finding the right balance.

‘This PlayFinders website is just the beginning for me, the site today is just a simple offering but we want to build this out across different platforms. Perhaps a PlayFinders book, perhaps a documentary film and we have other ideas too. We want people to forget about screens for a while, and remember that playing is one of the essential aspects of what makes us who we are. I just hope people enjoy what we are doing here, get behind the project, and upload their own memories of play!’

PlayFinders Board Member

Visit to find out more and upload your own games.

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