Gaming.....With Children: Awesome or Maddening? - Oni no Tenshi Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Gaming.....With Children: Awesome or Maddening?

Squid Hats are required for maximum gaming enjoyment...and cuteness.

When I was a child, the majority of games were considered to be "for kids."  Of course, when it comes right down to it, a bright blue hedgehog who rolls at super speeds, a plumber running about  jumping on turtles in a technicolor mushroom-filled world and a series of apes with silly names like "donkey" or "diddy" running about jumping on crocodiles are very kid-like in appearance.  However, the games themselves tend to be fairly fun for most people.  Even though the characters may have been silly, the platforming or adventuring involved are challenging for most people, and often almost controller-snappingly frustrating for people who are less than skilled with the control scheme.  Since there were very few games with actual "difficulty" levels (although, again, the "difficulty" level in these earlier games tended to be basically "the computer player is perfect and just goes faster and faster on the harder settings"), most games were just difficult by default.  But the newer generation of games tend to be far more likely to be focused on a certain age group, from the "hard core" adult (mostly male) gamer audience to "preschooler" games.

Believe it or not, my husband and I still play with our SNES.

Now, as you might have already surmised from the picture at the top of my blog, I have a 3 year old daughter.  She is currently in preschool and is incredibly inquisitive.  We recently saved up enough money to purchase an iPad, and have found this piece of technology to be an amazing introduction to gaming for my daughter.  Now traditionally, most games had to be interfaced with through a controller or a keyboard/mouse combo.  This often was a barrier for younger gamers, especially since most controllers were neither ergonomic for tiny hands or intuitive enough to make it easy for small children to learn how to properly use them without getting incredibly frustrated.  With touch screen technology, this barrier is immediately nullified.  

"Great, now we can have him do our taxes."

My daughter will come to sit on my lap and say, "Can we play the game?" and we will pick up the iPad and play.  She knows how to slide the screen from the lock screen and choose from her favorite games.  She can even open up Netflix to watch the "just for kids" section by herself.  And yes, even at the age of 3, she can play the games all by herself.

The very important part about all of this is that she can play by HERSELF.  I know that many games will say that they require parental supervision or parents hanging out with their kids (see above photo), just as I think that gaming can stink when someone's sitting there being a backseat gamer, I know how much wonder and enjoyment gaming can bring if you're able to discover the gaming by yourself.  So while I will be there with my daughter when she's playing, I let her experiment by herself.  While she will make mistakes and sometimes does have problems "getting" the objective of certain games and needs some guidance, she generally does better when she can work it out by herself.

So, without further ado, I want to talk about a couple of games that my daughter enjoys to play.  I know that many of you may not be interested in these games yourself, but if you have young family members or children of your own, these are fairly decent (and educational) games to start your children out with.

1) Starfall ABCs

My mom is a kindergarten teacher and she uses this educational game to help her kindergarten children to learn letters, prononciation and words in a fun way.  There are many mini games that are both very fun and enjoyable.  The best way to think of this game is to compare it to the older Sesame Street episodes with the focus on phonics and the alphabet.  Only instead of just watching, it is interactive.  My daughter, after only a couple of months of practice, is an expert at the game, getting pretty much 100% on all of the letter matching and mini games.  The game offers one themed game "episode" per letter of the alphabet, but has a lot of replay value.  It also has songs that it encourages you to sing along to as well.

2) Shape Builder

I love the *IDEA* of puzzles.  The reality, especially when you have a child, is not pretty.  Basically, children are messy.  And because they are messy, they inevitably lose at least one piece of every puzzle, regardless of how much you watch them.  The best part about this game is that none of the pieces ever get lost in this tangram puzzle game, plus it always shows you a picture of whatever it is you've made a puzzle shape of afterwards (including numbers, letters and objects).  And there are literally hundreds of them, which means that for a couple of bucks, you're getting more puzzles than you can buy at the store and no pieces will go missing either.  My favorite part?  No messy clean up!

3) Curious George Goes to the Zoo

This game is one of my daughter's favorites because it teaches kids about various types of animals (there are video segments that talk about animals with real life footage).  Her preschool is doing an animal-themed curriculum this year, so this game helps supplement her lessons from class.  Plus, you can feed, clean and brush all of the various animals and "help" George out.   There are mini games as well as a sticker/art section, and you can earn more stickers as you help out more animals. The game is somewhat repetitive in how you "take care" of the various animals, but I think this is probably an intentional thing because of the age range that this game is intended for.  All in all, the music, interactivity and options are easy for kids to learn how to use and not offensive or annoying for parents who have to be nearby while the kids are playing the game.  It also allows you to buy separate sections (like an arctic, "down under" and farm location) for a fairly low price (under 4 bucks) so you can increase the number of animals that you can learn about.

4) Nick Jr. Draw & Play

Not only does this game have a ton of options for art based exploration, but it also has a very intuitive set-up.  The licensed characters allow for kids to enjoy coloring pages and stickers that animate when you touch them.  My daughter has spent countless hours playing this game, and she's always creating something new.  While I wouldn't recommend this for someone who is looking for a serious drawing and coloring program, it is a good introduction to a touch screen/tablet based art program and the familiar characters make it more inviting to small children.

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I know that perhaps these games are not games that you would choose for yourself, and I don't blame you.  Personally?  Most of these games are so simple that they are boring to me.  However, the big thing here is that I'm not playing these games FOR my daughter- she's exploring them HERSELF.  Sure, she's going to get to a point where she's going to age out of these games, and when she does, I have a bunch of other games that she can enjoy and explore that are "older" and more sophisticated in style and substance (and I would be absolutely tickled pink if I could pass on my first blue DS to her once she's old enough to take on the responsibility).  However, I do also know that once my oldest daughter has moved on, she'll have had that foundation of gaming already laid out for her- one where she was allowed to explore and discover on her own, where she didn't have someone breathing down her neck telling her how to play the "right" way. 

My own love of gaming came from a similarly pure experience of learning and growing from my own mistakes with my original Game Boy.  I feel that every person who loves games must come to gaming on their own terms, and that there's really no way to shortcut that process.  And while I do hope that one day I will be able to play Smash Brothers and Mario Kart with my kids, I also know that there's a lot to be said for that one-on-one gaming experience where you are free to go at your own pace.  My daughter has just started her journey, but already, you can see the excitement shining in her eyes as she swipes open the home screen and chooses the game she wants to play.

And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. 

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So, what would you say was your first gaming experience that really solidified you as a gamer?

If you have children of your own, how do you think you would like to introduce them to gaming and what age do you think is appropriate for a child to start gaming?

And finally, do you think that iOS and other tablets should be considered legit gaming devices, or do you set them apart from the "traditional" console/handhelds?  Why?

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Additionally I wish all of you a happy and safe Halloween from my family to yours!

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