Play Again

Last night I saw a Portland screening of the film, Play Again, which examines kids and “screentime,” that is, how kids spend time with television, video games, cell phones and computers.

My interest stems from theories of media literacy. In fact, one of the reasons I chose communication over political science was because of my passion for mass media research. When I was admitted to grad school, I fussed over whether to study communication at Cornell or political science at Harvard, and never regretted choosing Ithaca over Cambridge.

One of the first lessons in grad school was the demolition of the powerful effects model in media studies. As novices to research methods, we just assumed that media have huge effects. As it turns out, people aren’t dry sponges that absorb messages like so much magic water.

But media can displace the time we would spend in other tasks. In fact, scholars call it the displacement theory. And while the film is a bit sloppy in merging theories about media effects into a mush, the film is spot-on in portraying the time spent with mediated communication. And most of this time is solo, meaning, the kids aren’t face-to-face with actual people (just their avatars).

The film takes a troupe of kids—pre-teens and teenagers—and removes them from their screens and takes them into the woods for a four-day camping trip. We see them make bows and arrows, swim in frigid streams, roast marshmallows, pick berries, sing camp songs, and—well—play.

The film concludes with stories about the importance of play and our relationships with nature, noting that most of us are far removed from our natural environment. Missing, says one of the teachers, is the understanding of our connections: we don’t see or feel the linkage. When we take a walk or camp in the woods we realize that we’re a small speck in the web of life. In contrast, when we’re at the controls of a video game we’re the masters of our universe.

The conclusion aligns with indigenous ontologies, which locate human beings within the web of interconnections, not the masters of the helm.

For more about the film see


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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