They are only games – aren’t they? My kids and video games.

Last Friday night our slim line play station two died. The disk stopped spinning and the games stopped working. My four and a half year old son began to cry, he’d been waiting all week for Friday night when he could play his snow boarding game and even his sister, who’s just two, filled up. Although she can really control the characters, she still loves to play. The tears brought it home to me just how much they loved video games – maybe too much, a bit like me.

My son once played ‘Little Big Planet’ for the Playstation 3 in an electrical shop, we don’t have a playstation 3. The effect of manoeuvring a sack character round a screen was quite profound on him and he spent a long time drawing what he’d seen. He even collected the coins from down the back of the sofa to buy it. This is the power of the video game.

I only let my kids play on a Friday and Saturday night and I always watch and play with them, even so, is it healthy for little kids to play video games and how much time should they spend doing it? It must be bad right? Do I want my kids to pick up my mild addiction to video games? Reading the forums on Yahoo reveals mixed results, some say that little kids shouldn’t play at all because it’s bad for their development and they don’t understand the ‘real’ world, others say that it develops their hand-eye coordination and helps them to type faster. Of course there is always the knee jerk desire to say that all new inventions are bad, this was said of the printing press, trains, computers and of course video games.

Someone who’s thought a lot about this is the educational specialist and writer called Marc Prensky, his book ‘Don’t bother me mom, I’m learning’ is an attempt to understand the relationship between computer games, children and learning. He calls children who grow up in the modern world ‘digital natives’ and sees computer games not just a fun pastime for children, but a vital part of their development in preparation for the modern age. So would I be doing my son a disservice by not letting him play?

‘The illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn,’ posted one of my techie friends on Facebook. It’s a quote from Alvin Toffler’s Book Powershift in which he discusses the changing face of information and power. I thought about my little son playing his snowboarding game and how he learned to do the jumps and speed up or slow down, I didn’t ever show him how to use a playstation paddle, or even a mouse, he just went right ahead and did it.

I’m a computer gamer also and just fit into Prensky’s digital native mould myself, I’ve been playing games most of my life from the old BBC micro to the playstations and xboxes of today and I guess they have had a profound influence on my life. I find it really easy, almost natural to learn to use technology and I’m not smart. The people around me, at work and in my family are constantly asking me ‘how do I do this?’ ‘How can I do that?’ and if I can help then I do, but I almost always find myself saying that ‘in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’. I really don’t know a lot about technology, I’m just not afraid of making mistakes. In computer games, you know that if you do it wrong then you can go back and have another go, you always get an extra life, but this isn’t necessarily true of the real world. In terms of health or relationships you might not get the chance to put things right if they go wrong.

Phycologists Hilarie Cash and Kim Mcdaniel are quick to warn of the dangerous of too much gaming, in ‘Video Games and your Kids – How you stay in control’ they descibe how older children can become heavily addicted and how exposure to video games might prevent children from  learning through discussion or listening.

Of course they really are only games and it’s how we use them with our children that makes them useful or dangerous. Too much of anything is bad for us and that’s probably the case with video games. Being ‘digital natives’ doesn’t stop kids from being kids, they need to play football, run about, read books, draw monsters as well as playing on video games.

Will I be replacing our video game console this Christmas? Of course, I miss it more than they do.

Further reading

Marc Prensky – Don’t bother me mom, I’m learning.

Hilarie Cash and Kim McDaniel – Video Games and Your Kids

Alvin Toffler – Powershift

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for the post Chris. I’m a bit late catching up with my reading after a conference week. I’m more of a virtual world person than a gamer so I need some advice. I have a nearly 2 toddler who is a competent skyper and flash gamer. What would be some good games to start off on and on what platform?

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. Probably the easiest console to get would be a Wii – you can get these second hand through Gamestation’s website here. The Wei comes with probably the best game for it – Wii Sports and the majority of the games available are aimed at kids – although your lad is probably at bit too small to enjoy them as much as he will. You can get games pretty cheap from ebay, probably because they are quite old. Project Natal from xbox is coming out soon – which might well revolutionise the way we play our games.

      There are some great games for your PC as well – as I’m sure you’re already aware. Check out these games where you use your webcam.
      http://webcamgames.sky.com/

  2. thanks – wii’ll see what wii’ll see. Webcam games look fun

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