These days, we're too old to play pretend - and games are much more grown-up, too. We'll never have back those magic days, but it's endless fun to remember them. And while many of today's games lack the abstraction and simplicity that made it so delightful to expand, to explore and to flesh things out in our young minds, we've still got games that leave room for imagination. Some of our most successful, popular and beloved titles immerse players using what's unsaid rather than what's apparent - think Portal or Shadow of the Colossus, constantly begging the player to imagine what happened in their worlds, the silent whys and whens.
So although they're all grown up, games still have the power to set us dreaming. And many adults who grew up with games are now able to watch their own children play in many of the same ways they once did. Russell in Colorado watches how Disney's Princesses on Wii has inspired his 4-year-old daughter's play, and how she shares her invented games with others on the playground - even those who don't own or play the videogame she's so enthusiastic about.
Designer and professor Brenda Brathwaite, who's been in the industry for over two decades, now watches her two daughters experiment with gameplay ideas: "My daughter Maezza (8) took all the pillows off the couches in our living room to teach her 4-year-old sister Avalon how to play a platformer," she says. "She'd tried it with the game [Ratchet & Clank], and Avalon wasn't succeeding. So, Maezza decided that an analog method would work well. Sure enough, it did."
There's an entirely new generation of players being drawn into a medium that's become much more accessible and diverse. The relationship between videogames and childhood creative play will be different for our children than it was for us, but it will certainly remain. As we continue to enjoy videogames as adults, our experiences with the evolving medium will always be inextricably connected to the creative play of our formative years. New games, whether they're direct successors to our old best friends or simply influenced by them, will continue to amaze us with their advances - and they'll also remind us how much we've grown up.
Leigh Alexander is News Director at Gamasutra, author of the Sexy Videogameland weblog, and writes about games and gamers wherever they'll let her.