Storytelling? Or just really simple homemade videos on YouTube?

by Matthew Worwood

Ok, as a digital media practitioner, I hate, love, and most importantly envy all the extremely simple, basic, homemade videos of talking toys, trains, and Legos that are shared on YouTube. I find myself sitting there thinking, who is watching all of this stuff, and how has such a simple video got thousands of views when the trailer for my documentary barely has over a hundred. The answer is right in front of me – ‘DADDY!!! Can I watch Disney Collector Girl’, says Lucas. Who is Disney Collector Girl I say, ‘She’s on YouTube silly’. My boy absolutely loves these YouTube videos, he watches them during lunchtime and often chooses them over his favorite shows on Disney Junior (ok don’t judge with the fact I let Lucas watch the iPad at lunch time, He’s three and can be an absolute pain when it comes to eating so we need a distraction).

It’s certainly difficult to specify on what he finds so engaging about the content, which may I add he finds himself by ‘browsing’ the suggestions on the right of the screen. Most of the videos he watches appear primitive and unstructured in their production and storyline to me, but to Lucas they make perfect sense and grasps his attention just like the latest Hollywood Blockbuster. This is probably because the director, filmmaker, and storyteller, is usually a child close to Lucas’s age. Why shouldn’t Elsa from Frozen jump into a spaceship to go and visit Lightening McQueen, who’s busy chilling on a wooden railway with Thomas the Tank Engine? Then comes in a monster in the form of a coke bottle and destroys everything in seconds and the film comes to a close. There are some videos that have been produced with the support of parents, and these include soundtracks and credits but the stories remain as sporadic. Lucas’s early favorites come from a category devoted entirely to wooden trains crashing and falling off tracks to the song ‘Accidents Will Happen’. This was when he was really into Thomas the Tank Engine and would get his trains and replicate what he was seeing on the screen.

As I reflect on this activity I realize that Lucas was actually acting out the story that was unfolding in the video, and this is what makes the videos so powerful – it’s kids telling stories, to other kids, who in turn are inspired to create their own modified versions. Obviously children have always created their own stories in play, I still remember some of the stories I created when I played with my Star Wars figures and Legos. However, in the digital age we now have the ability to capture and share these stories with the world. So last week I recruited Lucas to produce our first movie, it was certainly an experiment and didn’t last longer than thirty minutes, but participating in the activity I realized how much of a creative act it really was – We were making and telling a story.

Now I confess that in the first few minutes I made a genuine attempt to structure it as a wannabe filmmaker, but as you can see my boy was having none of it and quickly stamped down his authority as the director of our film.

Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is an educator, Creative Studies scholar-practitioner, and co-host of the Fueling Creativity in Education podcast. He is a professor of Digital Media Design at the University of Connecticut and a husband and proud father to three young boys.

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