Friday, 28 January 2011

Allowing Encouraging kids to game

Following on from my previous post, I'd like to explain exactly why I don't let my children play videogames... I encourage it!

Most mums have the idea that playing video games is wrong, and a complete waste of time, and they will even lie to other mums about how much time they let their kids play them. Often, other mums will amiably admit (when prompted by me) that games aren't 'all bad' and that surely children need to have some down-time, and that yes, they might even learn something, for example fine motor skills and problem solving. And of course it is socially relevant as it gives them a shared experience to talk about with their peers. However, I can tell they're secretly disapproving and probably suspect that I'm merely rationalizing my lazy parenting.

Jane McGonigal's TED talk is just one of the many examples of real researchers who support that gaming is in fact a great activity for people to engage in. I have previously read in Grand Theft Childhood, how the idea that gaming promotes violence and anti-social behaviour, is based on bad science and biased research. In fact, the authors' preliminary findings show that gaming is an excellent way for (especially boys) to make friends. The violence does not desensitize children and they do not have trouble distinguishing it from real-life violence and harm. And they do learn perseverance and problem solving.

McGonigal takes works out a similar theme in the kind of detail that I really love. I'm going to paraphrase some of her talk, but please do watch the real thing too! She explains how gamers have four superpowers:
1. urgent optimism: they believe that they can do the tasks they are given, and that they can do them right now. In the game world, they are continually entrusted with tasks that are tailored to their 'level' and that are, invariably, achievable.
2. social fabric: in the gaming world, there are literally thousands of people around at any given time, who are happy to work together with you as a team to achieve the lofty goals you've been set.
3. blissful productivity: gamers don't sit around doing nothing. They are constantly running from quest to quest, gathering skill points and achievements.
4. epic meaning: the tasks gamers complete are epic. Generally, they are saving the world. It's very motivating!

If they spend 2 hours a day gaming, they will have clocked more than 10 000 hours of gameplay between the ages of 6 and 21. Once you've done 10 000 hours of anything, it makes you an expert, a virtuoso. Which means we have a whole generation of superhero gamers. Of course, they only have their superpowers in the virtual world, and that is a problem. The real world doesn't have the kind of reward structure and epic meaning... or does it?

Aside from McGonigal's own company Social Chocolate that launches games with the express purpose of solving the real world's problems, there are plenty of real-world examples of how gaming is a perfect way to view the world.
There's diets based on gaming (point scoring, competition, bragging rights...). In my own parenting experience, we have often used the reward structure inherent in gaming, as well as the epic dimensions to encourage the children to do well in the real world.

When Bambam started school, he struggled with learning to read. It seems like a daunting and insurmountable task and every single day, it seemed he was no closer to achieving the goal. In the real world, one might just give up. But if you view it like a game, it's very different! In World of Warcraft, you can acquire a skill, for example metalworking. When you first learn it, you can make a few simple objects. Each time you do it, you earn a skill point. When you've got enough skill points, you level up. It's a gradual process with a goal that is clearly achievable. We started approaching learning to read in this way. Rather than coming home every day not having learned to 'read', Bambam came home having earned 1 skill point by learning one new lettersound. He knew that once he had enough skill points, he would be able to level up from the pink sticker books to the red sticker books. He became blissfully productive, and optimistic about his ability to complete the epic task of learning to read.

This is just one example, but it convinces me that I'm doing the right thing by encouraging my children to game.

1 comment:

  1. The trick is, not letting the kids play the wrong kind of games, for too long, or as a means of keeping them busy.

    I was a child raised by a mother who thought the exact opposite, and my love of video games STILL helped me by giving me a career I love and a network of friends who enjoy the same activities.