I saw yesterday evening at a screening organized by a local high school student who is completing a senior project focused on getting kids outside (see a news story about her impressive project here).
If you haven’t heard of it, Play Again is a documentary that came out in 2010. After winning numerous film festival awards, the screenings are still going strong. The film follows six typical teenagers that attend a no tech wilderness camp. All the teens have average to extreme addictions to video games, social media and/or texting. Scenes from the camp are interspersed with comments from experts on child development and the influence of too much screen time or too little outdoor time. As with all good documentaries, the most telling moments are those that are presented without commentary, allowing the audience to make connections by themselves. In particular, the facial expressions of the kids, especially two of the boys who played a lot of video games before the camp, were happier, less stressed and less tired-looking once they spent time at the camp. That is a subjective observation, but it was pretty apparent and amazing.
The only thing about the film, that I would have liked to see done differently is the ending. After the camp, the kids are asked to attempt “screen time fasts” to see how long they could go without any time on computers, phones or watching TV. Some gave up right away. Others lasted several days, but it was clearly hard. I felt the fast idea emphasized the negative denial aspect of turning off technology, instead stressing the more positive and more likely to succeed long-term idea of challenging the kids to find creative ways to commit to inserting other activities into their lives. Some did find more time to get outside or participate in activities that got them away from screens. Notes on what the kids did after the wilderness experience are in the final moments of the film.
The screening I attended was followed by a panel discussion led by local experts. Really interesting and well done. Ironically, watching all that nature time on the screen was refreshing and made me want to go camping. Have you seen Play Again? What did you think?