With the children of Nepali Nintendo we witness how children who live on the lowest margins of material wealth play, laugh, interact with and breathe new life into objects that the rest of society discard as useless. Here the power of a child’s vision comes to the fore. The way they just walk the road, no judgement, no desire for things they don’t have and very little complaining. Apathetic ? Quite the contrary. These children are full of life, ideas and creativity.
To observe the way in which these children communicate through and share objects that most children in the west wouldn’t even register as being there, the way in which inanimate waste becomes something new and is reinterpreted as something ‘else’, is akin to watching a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat. A tape measure becomes a sword, a car speaker becomes a magnet to collect coins from a river. These children reshape objects to fit their worlds. They remake them. They possess a vision of flexibility and see something new in what was supposedly inherently and permanently fixed for a purpose in its working life and wholly redundant in its current one.
The power of the film and still photographs of Nepali Nintendo as a visual text is its potential for multiple interpretations of meaning. It’s polysemic. What the audience brings to the reading will alter what they both perceive and take away from it. Forms of poverty, wealth, play, dirt, laughter, community, imagination and so on and so forth are all viable perceptions of the piece. Indeed, these varied perceptions are all reflections of our own histories, how we engage with the world around us and consequently how we engage with texts. As a text, Nepali Nintendo does not lead by the nose a passive audience to a predetermined and closed conclusion. It is open. Its aim is to start a conversation, not finish one.
One such reading could be could be how these children act as mirror on a western model of society that suggests for us to look at ourselves, the matter in our lives and the way we foster our children’s nurture. For while the Nepali Nintendo children are economically poor, there is a richness and a sense of freedom within them not often seen in a world based on material gain and consumption centred senses of happiness and values. Values that permeate western culture, one seemingly slipping toward ever more mediated relations with technology that go unquestioned and are outwardly banal.
However, if unearthed we begin to see a world in which there is an agenda within the design, touch and even shine of the machines we interact with daily and hourly that is entirely motivated to script behaviour, to draw in, to guide people into living their lives a certain way. Behind the mirror, in the backstage of any technological device lays a veritable army of coders, designers and marketers whose hand is in every gadget and whose thoughts are often way ahead of our own. When we turn on a piece of technology, say a tablet or video game, we are in effect inviting countless strangers to come sit and share with us our ‘private’ time.
Within this 21st century version of co present interaction we now exchange soft tissue for software. And in this exchange, for those on the ‘right’ side of the digital divide is a world in which play, communication and interaction based on something so simple as co-presence is all but dying as a social act. This is a social world in which lives are not lived face to face but face to screen, a world in which our relationships are lived and built through the mediation device of technology and the abstract. A world of i-pad nannies and consumption of data in isolated community. We are alone together.
With our games, each click is basically predetermined and each level or ‘victory’ of the game already won or lost on our behalf. The space or opportunity to reinterpret a preset game is all but null. The ability to redesign the interaction is blocked, hindered by a stranger in a distant land. The question is ‘whose playing who’ ?
To educate our children into this way of life before they can even speak, in showing them the way of emotional satiation through the material over community, imagination and experiential is a moot point. Or at least it should be.
In looking at children creating toy trains out of light bulb packets, or inventing a micro economy and their own socio-economic system from grass, mud and bottle tops and interacting together and learning by ‘doing’ and feeling in the ‘real’ world and not an abstract one it is difficult to help but feel we may have lost track.
No one would wish abject poverty on any child. But deprived of the cloth of material substance that so often chokes the imagination, spontaneity and natural curiosity out of others, one can witness an energy as yet unblemished, a curiosity as yet unbounded, a ceaseless desire to experiment and a human nature in its most natural and benevolent form. The form of play.
Introduction of the film Nepali Nintendo and stills reportage can be seen on the main site