MAPPING PLAY CULTURES, IN THE WORLDâ€™S FIFTH LARGEST COUNTRY
This blog was put together to demonstrate just some of the findings of a research trip to Brazil in March 2016 by the PlayFinders team.
PlayFinders is a social enterprise that collects and connects play from around the world. The PlayFinders team are building an online tool that will map different types of â€œtraditionalâ€ non-digital games and play from around the world. The team hope this will achieve two main results.
The first outcome is that children are inspired to try new types of traditional play from around the world, encouraging them to put down their devices and screens and experiment in traditional play.
The second outcome is that PlayFinders will build a play legacy. This means that traditional types of play are stored online for future generations, in an ever-growing crowdsourced map of traditional play memories and rules.
The goal of the PlayFinders research trip in Brazil was to see what is different about play there, how different communities understand play and what play means to them, to map some traditional games and to simply learn from some of the most interesting thinkers on the ground in Brazilian play.
SO, WHY BRAZIL?
PlayFinders has its roots in England, but was born as part of the British Councilâ€™s Elevate Challenge. This challenge saw play experts from around the world (from Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Scotland and beyond) spend a few weeks in Japan. This trip to Japan included research, workshops, a Play Safari, a series of meetings and more in an investigation and celebration of traditional types of play.
The ElevateChallenge was organised to try and solve big social problems, in particular children not playing traditional games any more, which is a phenomena happening most strongly in Asia but also across the globe more and more. In short, the ElevateChallenge Fellows wanted to help protect traditional play and ensure a generation of children does not lose out on the joy of traditional, non-digital, physical fun and play.
For the PlayFinders teamâ€™s research and thinking; Brazil seemed like the perfect place to be. It is a rising economic power, it has a sheer scale (Brazil is more of a continent, than a country really), and itâ€™s always been known for its broad-minded grass roots culture.
Before we visited the country we had visions of a place that saw childhood as being something that was open, free, that embraced risk, with a series of unique histories and socio-cultural conditions that made it significantly different to anywhere else on the planet.
But is this true? And what did we find out about Brazilian attitudes to games and play? How can this shape wider attitudes to play?
PLAY AND SELF-ESTEEM, TO EDUCATE, AND HERITAGE
Our first big meeting was with JoÃ¢o Pedro Maciel and Jorge Wallace Maisum from Project Brincalhau in Pavuna. This is a part of Rio De Janeiro that is not often explored by tourists in the city, the district of the city lying around 25km from Copacabana Beach.And a world apart really, Pavuna feels really disconnected from lots of the wealth, infrastructure and funding that Rioâ€™s south zone receives. It has little investment from the city, like much of the North Zone of Rio.
JoÃ¢o explained to us: â€œMany schools in Rio De Janeiro donâ€™t teach black history, so we see it as being important to teach this culture through play. This is an important and valuable way to communicate the stories, the traditions and the games that were played when you look back through history.
â€œWe look at education and play collaboratively, with children leading their education. Play is so important, because these games we play offer a direct connection to the roots of our culture. Thereâ€™s no flexibility in the school curriculum but play can shift, be more accommodating and it brings children and our community together.â€
JoÃ¢o and Jorge brought this to life with a vivid example. They told us about the game Umbuby, which has its history roots in Ghana, Africa. This traditional type of game involving one child playing the role of a blindfolded lion, one child playing the role of a blindfolded impala, and the watching children encircling these two animals and shouting their encouragement in an attempt to stop the lion capturing the impala.
â€œIt is fun, it is part of our culture that is not recognised in formal education, and it reflects the ancient traditions of African people. It is not just for kids, it is important for families and people that these types of games are played,â€ JoÃ¢o explained.
But for the Brincalhau team, play isnâ€™t all about looking backwards. The roles of games and free play is very important for current issues in Brazilian society.
Jorge explained that they were using play as a way to tackle the current zika crisis (the mosquito born infection is getting huge global publicity and was a major talking point during our visit, with health officials confirming a link between it and serious birth defects). He told us about one game where children were set anti-zika challenges and games that were specifically designed to clean up the local neighbourhood â€“ removing standing water and empty bottles that the zika mosquito can use to breed as part of a wider game. And doing hiding toy mosquitos around the neighbourhood for children to find, subtly educating them around the danger of mosquitos and what we can do limit their effects.
Jorge explained he would be he was somehat worried about some Japanese or Western Europe attitudes to digital games and play.
He told us: â€œWhen everything comes ready-made, it means kids donâ€™t use their imagination Imagination, creativity and play should be valued. We are trying to create a methodology. We think there should be eight hours to work or learn; eight hours to live, and eight hours to sleep. These eight hours where we live and when people and children really develop. And thatâ€™s where we should be focusing our energy for a new generation. When you grown-up, you become set in your ways. Through play in development, this is when you ensure children think beyond their own aspirations.â€
We were particularly encouraged about this session encouraging children to tidy after each session. This was about play promoting citizenship, and children learning to love a place and see it as their own. Play here revitalised unused spaces, turning it into a community asset.
PLAY AND CULTURAL REPRESENTATION
We met with ObservatÃ³rio de Favelas. This remarkable organisation is dedicated to social organisation, research, consulting and public action â€“ it is dedicated to the knowledge and political propositions on favelas and city phenomena.
Created in 2001, the Favela Observatory is based in the MarÃª Favela in Rio De Janeiro, but works in cities and communities right across Brazil. The centre has five instructional aspects; across education, policies, urban, communication and culture. But we were here to talk about play.
We met with Michelle Henriques, who told us that our initial assumptions about play in favelas were probably not as we thought. Digital games and play were still a huge aspect of life in favelas. She explained attitudes to play in favelas were not actually easy to summarise or categorise.
Favelas all have their own distinct culture, communities and many differences that make any easy assumptions about childhood, games or varieties of play really impossible. impossible. She explained that a lot of the ObservatÃ³rio de Favelaâ€™s work was actually about challenging assumptions from around Rio, Brazil, South America and the rest of the world about what living in a favela is actually all about.
According to their research, there were fewer worries about children using devices and screens at an earlier age. This was for two reasons. The first, was that access to the digital space was important in terms of connections to ideas, opportunities and social progress.
And that there was still a powerful popular culture of â€œplaying outâ€.
In fact, the ObservatÃ³rio de Favelas team had lots of questions about the PlayFinders project. Are games really that different across borders? It was clear that lots of young people in favelas were really not that different. They have the same hopes and dreams, and face many challenges that are universal for children around the world. And, the team pointed out that there are actually lots of positives around access to screens and the internet improving opportunity.
Michelle told us about a traditional game called Quimada. To play this game, children form two teams. Each team has a field, and thereâ€™s a place called the cemetery. One person from each starts in the cemetery, so heâ€™s dead. The rest of the team starts in the field. The person who is at the cemetery always starts the game by throwing a ball to the opposite side where his partners are. The living people from this team have to catch the ball and throw it against the other team. If someone from the opposite team touches the ball, he is burnt, so he is dead. The â€œdead onesâ€ go to the cemetery, and the game finishes when every living person from one team dies. Michelle explained this game had been played by generation after generation of children from around Brazil.
We also heard about a game called Pexeireia, which involves children stood in a line and attempting to catch another child who pretends to be a fish.
The PlayFinders research with ObservatÃ³rio de Favelaâ€™s showed us that although it is challenging to generalise, a lot of play in favelas is inspired by one word: improvisation. Children want to play a lot of the same games and play, but because of a lack of infrastructure, space or equipment children are forced too often improvise. This could be a good thing. Children play improvised version of dodgeball, volleyball, and ping pong using smaller spaces and repurposed equipment.
We also learned that in many ways, lots of games and play are not actually different across borders. Whether itâ€™s in the parks of Tokyo, or the British seaside or the favelas of MarÃ© in Rio De Janeiro, children love to play traditional, simple games such as spinning top, marbles, and ,hopscotch and of course, Tag..
Michelle told us about one other phenomenon which weâ€™d spotted on earlier walks and explorations of the city. That of kite flying.
Michelle said: â€œKite flying is one of the most popular types of play in favelas. Itâ€™s a game, itâ€™s free play, and it also allows a sense of escape. Traditions of how to play have been passed down from elders to the young people. Kite flying is popular not just in Rio, but in favelas around Brazil. Something that just makes many children so happy, itâ€™s part of our landscape now.â€
PLAY AS EXPLORATION AND HISTORY
To get another perspective on play, we visited a high-end shopping mall in Gavea, near Leblon, one of Rioâ€™s most exclusive neighbourhoods. And we were surprised by what we discovered, who we met and what we found out about play.
We met with the owner of a remarkable little toy shop on the very top floor of the shopping mall. Enfim Enfantis owned by Flavio Oliveira. She set up the shop in October 1994 after falling out of love with academia.
Flavio said: â€œWithout play, there is no childhood. Play is the most important part of childhood development, itâ€™s the way we experiment with real life, try things out. We pretend to be adult, and itâ€™s how we learn to be an adult, and how we learn to relate to each other too.â€
She said childhood could be complicated in Brazil: â€œIn my opinion thereâ€™s a big difference in how people play in Brazil â€“ there are differences between urban and rural; and between rich and poor. Parents have more fear in wealthier communities. There is a correlation, the more money parents have, the more worried they become about freely playing out.â€
Flavia explained that this is one reason her toy shop is dedicated to traditional types of games and play. In fact, these games are not just Rio games and toys. She has dedicated her career to travelling around Brazil, into the Amazon and beyond to discover traditional toys and then working with local artisan makers to bring them to young children in the city.
â€œItâ€™s a way to share the way we used to play games. It is wonderful to explore indigenous Brazilian history, and I love to work with artisanal makers to create the toys I find so children in our cities can play this way too,â€ she said.
We learned about several traditional games at Flaviaâ€™s wonderful toy shop. Passa Anel (roughly translating as passing the ring) which is a type of play that promotes imagination, creativity and attention. Passa Anel can be played at home, in the backyard, or at school.
So, how does it work? A child is chosen to pass the ring. The rest of the participants sit next to each other with hands clasped, ajar, forming a closed shell. The child holding the ring between their hands should move the hands towards the hands of other participants. At one point the child will choose one player and will drop the ring between his or her hands without the rest of the players noticing. To outwit the group, the participant with the ring must again pass the hands of the participants. Then the child will choose a participant who is not with the ring, and this child must guess who has the ring. If the child gets this guess wrong, you are eliminated from the game. To make the game more exciting, the passer may have more than one object in the hand (e.g. money or a marble). The chosen player must guess which object and in whose hands. Fantastic fun!
We also learned about Circle Play, and Pique Pega (a version of tag). To get a sense of the toys, and the ethos of this shop visit the website here.
FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS: PLAY TO INSPIRE
For the Project Morrinho team, play comes from a simple need to find a place of escape, safety â€“ so important in what can be an unsafe environment. This project demonstrates the value power of having a childrenâ€™s imagination to start a small revolution..
Project Morrinhois a social and cultural project based out of the Villa Pereira da Silva favela, in the Laranjeiras favela (near Santa Teresa). It was started by local youth almost 20-years-ago and is a 320sq metre model of Rio De Janeiro, all constructed from very bright bricks and other re-used and recycled materials.
The favela that houses Project Morrinho has been pacified (meaning it has been made safe, in theory), and is now a very popular place for people visiting Rio. But itâ€™s still aIt is a place that thrills as you make your way down the steep hill, past the homes and along creaking narrow paths. The views of the city below are really spectacular. Itâ€™s an amazing place to visit.
On our visit, we learned that Project Morrinho began life as a simple vital childhood game to escape the realities of violence and corruption that used to surround the teens and their community where they lived. In the miniature urban world of Morrinho (which roughly translates as â€œlittle hillâ€) the children playing acted out a very Rio-specific role-playing game with numerous little Lego figures.
The imaginative world of Project Morrinho includes cars, police vehicles and everything that reflects the daily lives of young people in a favela â€“ both the good and the bad. The children played out their lives, while they were playing at gangs and police, the violence of their games took place for real far too often just meters from them. Their corner of their favela was away from the violence and because of this they gaming was in safety.
We were hugely impressed by three things: its scale (Project Morrinho has a wow factor. Itâ€™s huge!) the ingenuity (the way bricks are repurposed to make a childâ€™s perspective of the city is incredible), and the aesthetics (itâ€™s bright, colourful and totally unique).
On our visit we learned how Project Morrinho has grown from being a local Rio talking point to becoming an international phenomenon. The awareness has grown, but also its ambition. It has grown from a game made by a small group of youth to an The organisation has changed from being one of play, but towards one within itâ€™s own right with aspirations for social change and a business model including tourism, international touring and education..
The project has grown to cater for visitors, tour internationally, make films and run a social component â€“ which is focused on a â€œsmall revolutionâ€. This is about Project Morrinho educating young people through audio-visuals, art education, youth leadership and citizenship. Throughout this work, Project Morrinho aims to bring positive change as well as improve popular perception of Brazilâ€™s favelas. It contributes directly to the socio-cultural and economic development of surrounding favelas â€“ communicating the realities of life through film, theatre and music â€“ demonstrating that life in the favela is multi-dimensional. Much of this is through play.
On the tour from our talented guide Raniere Dias we learned how it was the children playing in Project Morrinho, and having a safe space to be creative and have fun was so important as the favela was pacified.
Most importantly, play in this context meant the importance of believing in dreams and the power of imagination. We were told about how the project has toured to New York, to Barcelona and plans are in place for a second visit to London too.
The organisers partly put this down to the inspiration and magical qualities of play. Project Morrinho allowed them to be free, and have a dream. By sticking with this dream theyâ€™ve made a life and career they didnâ€™t think was ever possible.
A full recording of the PlayFinders visit / interview at Project Morrinho is on Soundcloud here. And you can learn more about the project on their Facebook page.
PLAYFINDERS IN BRAZIL â€“ A SUMMARY
The PlayFinders experience in Brazil was invaluable. Our thinking was not only shaped and challenges by the four meetings included here, but also through more informal conversations with experts and people in Minas Gerais, around Bahia and in Sau Paulo.
What is clear, that the experiences of play offered in childhood have a higher aim than just to play.have huge potential on lives. Whether it is play for education, play for understanding of our cultural heritage, play as exploration, or play to fire imagination and give us something to dream about â€“ these experiences of play as a childhood shape who we are as people and who how we operate as as a society.
Rio, and Brazil are complicated territories places with hugely varied and distinct cultural histories. Throughout all my meetings it was great to see the value of open and free play â€“ it really seemed like play was front of minds in understanding how we should begin to build an inclusive, inspiring and imaginative world to live in.
So, whatâ€™s next? PlayFinders is officially launching in May 2016. The website will showcase some of the best rules, types of traditional play and play memories. These games will be primarily from Japan, the United Kingdom and Brazil (reflecting the PlayFinders journey over the past 18-months). But, thereâ€™s good news too, users will be able to add their own play stories to the website â€“ the PlayFinders team hope that this is just the start of a growing crowdsourced tool, that will be a resource for everyone with play memories, and believes in the true value of simple childhood play.
PlayFinders (from Paul Drury-Bradey
and Darren Boltonâ€™s BluePrint Film
) will be available on http://www.playfinders.com. Before then, follow the latest here