Childlike Is Not The Same As Childish

I tend to become obsessed with pastimes for several months at a stretch before moving on to a new interest — a video game that I’m playing, a creative franchise like The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek, or even writing Wikipedia articles.  My current obsession is answering people’s questions on subjects ranging from entertainment to technology on the question and answer site Quora.

The other day I saw a question that really surprised me:  “Why does everyone hate Minecraft?”  I immediately typed up the following reply:

Everyone does not hate Minecraft. It is one of the most popular video games of all time. In 2014, the game had 100 million registered users, with 14.3 million sales on the PC alone. Later that year Microsoft purchased the game’s publisher, Mojang, for $2.5 billion, something they would not have done if everyone hated the game.

Nor does everyone think it is a childish game. The internet has thousands of articles lauding Minecraft, like:

Anyone who thinks that Minecraft is hated and looked down upon as being a childish game is seriously misinformed. It is, in fact, one of the most popular and praised video games of all time.

Sure, there are some people who don’t like it, but then, there are also people who don’t like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, the Beatles, the Mona Lisa, chocolate ice cream, cats, football, and just about anything else you can name. Just become some people don’t like something, doesn’t mean that everyone does.

I thought what I wrote in my reply was pretty common knowledge, and so I began to wonder about the person who posted the question.  It was probably a kid, one who enjoyed playing Minecraft, but his friends had moved on to other games and were teasing him about playing a “child’s game”.

Many people seem think that if something is appealing to children, that it had childlike qualities, then it must be unsuitable for adults.  And that reminds me of my answer to another question I just answered on Quora,  “Why are Disney films childish?”

I disagree with the assessment that Disney movies are childish. Disney films have a common theme of facing challenges, fearing failure, but ultimately overcoming those obstacles. Often, those obstacles involve mature themes. In Dumbo, the little elephant deals with bigotry and rejection. In Bambi, the young deer deals with the loss of his mother. In The Lion King, Simba deals with the thought that he committed patricide and exiles himself. These are not silly storylines, but ones that can resonate with adults.

However, Disney films are targeted for the entire family, and as such, they are very appealing to children. Part of that appeal is that the protagonist is often a child or young adult. Another aspect is that Disney films usually have humorous scenes and often songs. Also, the style of Disney animation is one that children can easily watch and interpret.

As to why Disney uses this formula for its films, it is because their family-friendly formula is an enormously successful one. Twelve of the 100 top box office earners of all time, adjusted for inflation, are Disney animated films.

When we are enjoying something in a childlike way, that does not mean we are being childish, because even that which is designed for children can have benefits for adults.  Which brings me to Pokemon GO, as all video games articles written this month must do.

Although Pokemon is a media franchise that has always been associated with children, millions of grown-ups are suddenly playing its augmented reality incarnation.  No doubt some of these players are attracted to the nostalgia of playing Pokemon as kids, but even those who are new to Pokemon are attracted by the childlike simplicity of the game, the cute animations, and the fantasy of catching little creatures hidden around their neighborhood.

Many other adults roll their eyes when they see supposed grown-ups wandering the sidewalks and parks staring at their mobile phones and playing a “kid’s game”, but it is not childish to enjoy such things.  Remember that “Chewbacca Mom” video that went viral a couple of months ago.  The reason it went viral was that it was delightful to see someone to so completely and unashamedly tap into their inner child, and as we watch it, we tapped into our inner child ourselves.

It is essential that we tap into our inner child regularly , whether it be by watching a film, wearing a mask, or playing a game that appeals to our childlike qualities.  Without wonder, laughter, or fantasy, the pressures of real-life would dull our minds and dampen our spirits, and allowing that to happen out of fear that we would otherwise look silly — well, that is a thing that would be childish to do.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on July 18, 2016, in Game Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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