Video games, children love them, but you’re not so sure. Here you can find out about the risks and benefits of video games, plus some ideas for choosing appropriate games and managing your child’s interest in playing them.
did you know
According to a 2005 survey:
76% of families set rules about which types of games their children could play.
Games with cartoon-style violence can send the message that violence is a good way to solve conflict. They can also make kids less sensitive to real-life violence, or make them overly fearful about violence in their own world.
What are video games?
Playing it safe
Benefits of playing video games
Problems of playing video games
What about violence in video games?
What are video games?
Video games are electronic, interactive games that come in many forms: CDs, DVDs, internet downloads and online games. They can be played on a personal home computer (PC), television or portable hand-held device. Some games are controlled by a separate joystick or console, while others use the computer keyboard and/or mouse. Many games (including those online) can be played by several people at once.
The big name brands for video games are Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo.
Playing it safe
The best way for your child to learn from video games is when you play together. An added bonus is that you’ll spend some time with each other and have fun! Here are some ideas for making the most of video games with your child.
Set ground rules of one hour: aim for this recommended daily screen time for children under seven or eight.
Moderate: aim for balance in your family activities, so that everyone has a go at physical activity, creative activities and interactive social games. Work together to prioritise indoor play time, outdoor fun, homework and time spent with friends.
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Get involved: ask your child to show you how a game works – it’s the best way to tune into what your child is learning. Make a mental note of the kinds of games your child enjoys and finds challenging. So if your child is really enjoying a game about dinosaurs, for example, you can broaden his knowledge by finding books or movies on the topic.
Discuss: talk to your child about the games he is playing. Find out what your child likes or dislikes about the games and ask what he would change or add to make them better. This will develop his analytical and critical skills.
Be informed: read reviews of the games you think might be suitable for your child. Make sure you carefully read the blurb on the game’s cover. And don’t forget to check the game’s rating – games rated G or PG are more likely to suit young children.
Borrow before buying: if possible, borrow games from a library or a friend before making a purchase. You might find that your child isn’t interested in a particular game, or you don’t approve of the game’s content or concepts.
Dr. Mona warned left a consulting psychology of the many children watching the kid cartoons and played video game in the first three years of age, where it may lead to decreased levels of intelligence and the ability to communicate and collection.
Said Dr. Mona left – in the program Good Morning Egypt on Monday morning – said the research proved that watching television in the early age of the child lead to a lack of focus makes the child as much movement, the child also Tbehrh colors and speed of movement in the cartoon tends and loves to watch a lot, which it at the age of nursery tired of explaining the lessons is a modern teacher to receive information.
And recommended Mona Yousry mothers need to identify the assets of the child”s education from birth through the reading, or search the electronic information network, or the use of a specialist in psychology for child-rearing in a scientific way so that it can avoid the mental and neurological problems they face in old age.
She consultant child psychology that the American Academy of Children recommended in a recent non-exposed children under three years for any electronic games or watch cartoons.
She noted that if the Mona return the child to sit for several hours in front did not respond kindly to reduce the period, the mother use a physician for treatment of addiction, net and to increase communication with friends and family to keep him on the damage that addiction.
The ability to balance cooperative and competitive behaviors has important implications for a child’s overall development. While socially competent children appear to learn highly successful strategies for entering peer groups and negotiating access to limited resources, the development of this level of social competence can be challenging for preschool-aged children. Early childhood educators may therefore have to intervene to develop the child’s social competence and promote the use of negotiation and effective conflict management strategies. Using theories of social exchange and human sociobiology, this paper reviews literature on cooperation and competition involving limited resources and highlights the implications of this research for early childhood education. Results suggest that a variety of individual and social-contextual factors might influence a child’s development of socially competent behavior. The review highlights the importance of teaching children to negotiate effectively with peers.
Many educators view school-age students’ attraction to video and computer games with envy. “If only we could harness the power of video games in education…”, some say, with a wistful expression. Some equate the attraction of the game to the computer, and hope that any educational experience that occurs on a computer will somehow capture that magic. Some delve deeper, designing extensive educational simulations that adopt conventions of popular game design and expensive production values merged with educational content. In this paper, I suggest how these attitudes combine with market forces to strongly reinforce bad design and curtail innovation, rather than support a vision of compelling, immersive educational experiences.
There is no doubt that video and computer games have positive educational outcomes for the users. In an in-depth literature review, Alice Mitchell and Carol Savill-Smith conclude that there is “…the use of such games can stimulate the enjoyment, motivation and engagement of users, aiding recall and information retrieval, and can also encourage the development of various social and cognitive skills.” (Mitchell & Savill-Smith 2004).
In this paper, “educational games” are games designed for youth in the age range of compulsory school, approximately ages 5 to 18 that contain overt attempts to teach school-related subjects. “Video games” are commercial games designed for a specific hardware console such as Nintendo GameCube and GameBoy, Microsoft X-box, and Sony PlayStation. “Computer games” are designed for use on personal computers, either by running application software on the computer or playing a game online. As time goes on these distinctions blur, but the markets are different enough to make this distinction.
This paper, written by an educator who also designed video games and computer software for the home and school markets, evaluates attempts to harness the lure of these games for educational purposes. The paper offers an analysis of why the nature of video and computer games is antithetical to traditional forms of school curriculum, content and assessment, and why market forces, both consumer and educational, drive these design decisions.
Why Are Games An Attractive Model For Education?
When educators look at video and computer game players, they see young people suddenly transformed into attentive learners, willing to spend inordinate personal time learning to master complex situations. These same students, however, may not devote similar dedication to school-related activities. Educators wonder what it is about these games that could be used to make these game players devote the same attention to the goals of school.
Educational software developers deconstruct the elements of video games and come to the conclusion that the game play can be extracted from the context. Therefore, the thought goes, mere substitution of educational content and context while leaving game play elements untouched will produce educational games with great benefits for learners and stockholders alike.
In engaging computer and video games, the player must master a progressively challenging set of skills to advance each step in the game progression to ultimately “win” and end the game. This advancement through challenges is seen as a direct correlation to advancing through a course of study. In a classroom, the teacher guides the acquisition of skills and the students are able to progressively tackle harder problems, learn new facts and produce higher quality products required by the subject. It seems obvious that if an educational game led players through a similar process, similar results would be achieved, with the added benefit that students would pay attention and be engaged more than in a traditional classroom environment.
Learning vs. Content
Mastering skills comes in many forms. Game designers know that at some point, learning new skills has to end and you need to let the player start to play. Some games have a first level where skills are introduced, and then you start the real game. The actual “content” of the game, how to shoot your weapon, how to navigate your vehicle, how to throw the football, or any of the multitude of variations of game play is actually very limited. The game consists of becoming an expert in quickly selecting which of these skills are appropriate to your current situation. Learning in the game is a process, much of which ends in failure. Game designers know that there is a very special feeling that gamers get when they are being challenged at the right level. If you fail too quickly and too often, the gamer will give up. If the challenges are too easy, they will lose interest. It’s not fun to simply win all the time. Frustration and failure result in the eventual euphoria of wining at a new level, and provides incentive to keep going.
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The secret of a videogame as a teaching machine isn’t its immersive 3-D graphics, but its underlying architecture. Each level dances around the outer limits of the player’s abilities, seeking at every point to be hard enough to be just doable. In cognitive science, this is referred to as the regime of competence principle, which results in a feeling of simultaneous pleasure and frustration–a sensation as familiar to gamers as sore thumbs.
James Paul Gee, a reading professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison ‘What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy’
Educational game developers have different design goals thrust on them. Any educational game designed for schools must meet demands for increased accountability and test scores. The content of games must tie to mandated curriculum standards, which list the things that students must know in a certain grade level. The game therefore correlates to these standards and provides assessment vehicles so the students’ progress through these standards can be measured. If this does not happen, the game will have a very limited market in schools. These standards are likely to differ from state-to-state and between nations, making development of these games even more expensive.
In building these games, designers must often make sacrifices in creativity to allow content to fit into the game environment. Game play becomes rote, and graphics must be reused to accommodate the game elements that are drawn from a content pool. As much as the designers try, they are bound by the requirements of mandated content and simultaneous assessment to create a repetitive experience. These games may (or may not, depending on the research you read) increase standardized test scores, but they aren’t something that a student will devote time and energy to voluntarily like a video game. Some educational games go to great efforts to substitute the made-up worlds of video games with realistic educational worlds built to reproduce curriculum content. However, most educational games focus on low-level topics of simple literacy and arithmetic. The analytical rigor, ingenuity, and passion reserved for the most popular video games are seldom invoked by educational computer games.
“What is best about the best games is that they draw kids into some very hard learning. Did you ever hear a game advertised as being easy? What is worst about school curriculum is the fragmentation of knowledge into little pieces. This is supposed to make learning easy, but often ends up depriving knowledge of personal meaning and making it boring. Ask a few kids: the reason most don’t like school is not that the work is too hard, but that it is utterly boring.” (Papert, Easy Doesn’t Do It.)
Some commercial games do contain a lot of content, for example, sports simulations. Memorizing player statistics, playbooks and game statistics can help a player win the game. The difference is that the game is also playable without learning that content, but advancing in the game is easier when you do. There is no amount of content that is mandatory, in fact, some players will do very well by simply being skilled in game-play, while others may excel because they have memorized vast amounts of sports statistics. The game makes no judgement however, about which skills or content is more important than others, and offers all kinds of players many different ways to succeed.
As another example, chess is a complex game with limited “content.” Chess is also well regarded as supporting educational goals such as promoting critical and logical thinking skills. Yet the content of the game of chess is fairly minimal. There are only a few pieces with special moves to learn, the rules are straightforward and the game board is simple. Most people can function at a beginner level with less than an hour of instruction. What is it about chess, then, that attracts brilliant people to devote their lives to it? It’s that the rules are tuned so that highly complex and difficult problems are created relatively quickly. In chess, the process and resulting strategies for winning provide challenges that automatically escalate as players (and their opponents) become more adept at extending and complicating the game. As curriculum, chess could be “done” in a few weeks, with a test at the end assessing the student’s knowledge of chess moves, board set up, and perhaps some names of famous players. But anyone who would portray that as educationally appropriate would be laughed at.
Video and computer game designers face constraints placed on them by the market realties that exist in today’s retail world. When a company makes a decision to create a game, they want to put their money into games that will make them the most return on their investment. Game designers work to create a game that will look great, play well, be engaging and offer the player an experience that surpasses anything else they have done before.
Educational game designers have additional market forces thrust upon them that video game designers don’t have to worry about. These market forces tend to further constrain educational game design in ways that are contrary to what game designers know makes a game fun and engaging.
The consumer market for video and computer games is undergoing extreme pricing pressure that makes it very risky for publishers to invest the large amounts of money it takes to produce, market and sell these games. In the past ten years, the retail price of children’s computer games has dropped from over $40 (US) to less than $10 (US) due to many factors, including competition from free Internet sites.
The market for video games has remained slightly more stable with less price erosion. For video games to be commercially viable, the development costs range from 5-60 million dollars (US). (Williams 2004) This does not include the costs associated with marketing and putting the product on retail shelves. These costs can exceed the development budget. To make matters worse, games sales are tracked by major retailers weekly, and a game that does not sell well within a few weeks will be pulled off the shelves to make room for something that will make more money. This does not allow for a game to develop a word of mouth or build a reputation–the game must be promoted with expensive marketing to make sure that the early sales are high. If not, the game will be unavailable or in the bargain bin in a matter of weeks. For a company to invest tens of millions of dollars in a new game, they want to be assured of success.
Edutainment games, although less expensive to build, also are pressured to sell copies quickly. Retailers are often reluctant to put any box on the shelf that they do not instantly recognize as a potential “hit,” so they will tend to choose software for children, educational or not, based on licensed characters from popular television shows. Retailers see that parents will purchase games with familiar characters rather than ones with strong educational content.
For video game systems, there are no educational games being developed. This market is controlled by the hardware console manufacturers. These manufacturers, Nintendo (Game Cube and Game Boy), Sony (PlayStation), and Microsoft (Xbox) control all games developed and produced for their platforms. Every game design must pass through their approval process. Their goal is to market their game systems to hard-core gamers because they are the ones who spend the most money. These manufacturers cannot allow their systems to be perceived as being for children, it confuses the brand message. They therefore actively discourage all games that are designed primarily for children. The only ones that pass the approval process are tie-ins with licensed characters currently starring in hit movies or TV shows. Without the approval of the game system manufacturer, there is no way to bring a game to market. These manufacturers also require a large royalty for every unit sold, further reducing any chance of profitability.
In addition, video games labelled “educational” have sold so dismally that no one is making them anymore. Parents do not think of video game systems as being educational, they prefer their children to have fun and view these electronic games as a “break” from school and homework.
Finally, proprietary consoles like the Leapfrog systems have temporarily replaced educational game purchasing for many parents. Unfortunately, these consoles only allow simple games that are little more than multiple choice drills.
The School Market
The school market for educational software provides some hope for educational game designers. Schools will pay more than consumers for software, and therefore, there should be more money to develop good educational games.
However, looking closely at the numbers provides a more sobering conclusion. Simply by looking at the U.S. school market, you can see the economies of scale break down. There are approximately 115,000 K-12 school buildings in the U.S. (public and private.) At normal videogame pricing, sales of 500,000 units is required to breakeven (DFC Intelligence, 2004). Every school in the U.S. would have to purchase 4 units of any educational videogame for it to just to make the publisher’s investment back.
Clearly, this is not a market that will by itself support the development and production of educational videogames. Traditional publishers, especially publicly traded ones, simply cannot tell their investors and shareholders that they choose to spend their money on something with a low, slow return on their investment when there are other choices that make more money.
For this reason, educational software companies are concentrating their development and sales efforts on the sales of large instructional learning systems that can cost schools tens of thousands of dollars, even up to a million dollars for large installations. It is more efficient to make one sale for a hundred thousand dollars than to sell a thousand units of an educational game for $100 each. Inherent in the sale of these large systems is the promise that they will cover massive amounts of content and provide assessment data for the school system. This drives the design of this software towards the management of the content pool and reduces both the game play and the educational value of the software. Fear of government sanctions is responsible for revenue generated by these systems, not quality.
Educationally meaningful edutainment software requires substantial shifts in attitudes towards education both in the consumer and designer community. It’s not as easy as plugging school content into a video game engine. In addition, success would necessitate changes in the retail environment or non-traditional sources of funding for game development.
The current system of publishers working with retail and institutional purchasing works to reward the best-selling games in a very traditional capitalistic way. This makes it unlikely that games that do not fit into the current market expectations will be able to survive without an alternate source of funding for both development and dissemination.
There are certainly non-profit organizations that can choose to avoid these channels. However, it is not even enough to give games away for free. Schools especially are hard pressed for time, and bringing in new programs that do not promise to fully meet every goal of the set curriculum is just not worth it. There may be instances of individual teachers integrating a game into their classrooms, but the impact would be very small relative to the dissemination effort that would be required.
Likewise, busy parents will not even bother taking a free game, especially if it does not fit into their perception of their needs. Their own time is more valuable than that. Publishers recognize that reaching the mass-market parents is an expensive proposition. Unlike the entrenched audience of hard-core gamers who regularly disseminate information very efficiently through their own fan discussion boards, read similar magazines, and pay a lot of attention to new game releases, parents are much more difficult to reach.
Given these facts, the difficulty of educational game dissemination would most likely be pretty demoralizing to any institution that would have to devote millions of dollars and years of effort in the hope that it would significantly impact education. That kind of investment would require at least some hope of reaching a wide audience for even the most benevolent non-profit to consider it a success.
Educationally meaningful game software will require substantial shifts in attitudes towards education both in the consumer, publisher, and designer community. No one assumes it will be as easy as plugging school content into a video game engine. But it is daunting to grasp that success would require changes in the retail environment, a change in the current content-based assessment focus in schools, or need to rely on massive funding and patience from non-traditional sources of funding for game development and dissemination.
Does this mean that it is impossible? Of course not. These markets are changing rapidly and there is a high likelihood that channels that are small or even not invented yet will become mainstream. The key is to understand how current market forces work to impact game design, and decide how (or whether) a game design will conform to these expectations. The best news is that if we accept that non-traditional publishing is required for revolutionary educational game design, designers do not have to feel constrained by current rules. Freeing educational game designers from mandated curriculum, outdated assessment practices, and mass-market cartoon characters may be the only way that educational games can make that paradigm shift–creating the marriage of fun, engagement and academic legitimacy that innovative educational game designers envision.
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