Kids and computer games

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Little Mister's current favourite

I still hear a lot of people whinging about how children play too many computer games, and how they’re bad for them. I have a lot of experience of video entertainment (this doesn’t mean I’m any good – I’ve just played them a lot), and some limited experience in the child-rearing side of things but here are some things I’ve noticed.

Our littlest is around 3½. Despite his age, he’s still not a talker and has some communication issues which are mainly due to problems with his hearing. We got an Xbox at Christmas and he, of course, wanted to play all the time. But he was rubbish. Worse than me rubbish. Which is very rubbish indeed. He’s very active – too active, frankly. Runs circles round us and will chase the dog or cat for hours, bounce on the trampoline, run around outside until he falls over and comes home screaming… you know, a proper kid. As such I’ve no issues with him spending some time glued to the telly if it keeps him quiet and out of our hair for a bit.

There aren’t that many toddler-friendly games for the Xbox, but what we have so far are: De Blob 2, Megamind (scratched to hell and unplayable), Toy Story 3, Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars. Over time, he watched us playing and we often let him have a spare controller in co-op mode. This usually involved him twiddling the two joysticks randomly and giggling when a Lego character dropped off a cliff in an explosion of coins, releasing a Wilhelm scream. Or Wilhelm Wookie roar. Or whatever.

Hey, he was happy.

Over the last few weeks, though, he’s taken to it big style. He can’t read yet, which means we often have to explain things to him, but if the game has good use of imagery then this can help. Toy Story 3, for example, has “help” bubbles that show you a ghosted image of a character performing an action while the keys you need to press are displayed next to them. The Lego games are similar, although both games suffer from the player often having to be in just the right position for those buttons to work.

What’s amazed me, and prompted me to post this, is how quickly he’s come on since we sat him down with a controller and let him loose by himself. I just sat with him this morning as the played through the train stage at the start of TS3. Aside from one section which I did for him, he completed the whole thing himself. Picking aliens up and throwing them off the train, throwing bouncy balls at moving targets, smashing boxes open, jumping and double-jumping gaps and obstacles. Wow.

Lego Star Wars has captured his imagination more than the Indy game and its simple problems in the early levels are just right for him. After some demonstration from myself, he’s able to work out some of them with no assistance. Swapping to use the correct characters to perform a task is an example. If he sees a C3PO head, he knows he needs the right kind of droid. Sparkly things? Jedi force. Bounty Hunters only? Wander off, find a helmet machine, get a helmet, go back and get through the door.

And so on.

He can now control the characters and camera independently using the two joysticks. His timing for jumps is good. Not brilliant, especially double-jumps where he often can’t hit the jump key quickly enough in succession, but still pretty damn good.

Now, he’s a good kid with his other toys. He loves tool kits and his Toy Story figures – and his sister’s Lego much to her annoyance. But I don’t think we have much else that has improved his logic skills or hand-eye coordination as these computer games.

I actually think his communication has improved slightly as well, as he tries to explain where and how he’s stuck, or tells us what he’s managed to achieve.

Over and above that, he’s learned how to check whose profile is active when he comes to the console and change it to his own. It’s simple image recognition (as I said, he can’t read but he can identify the icons and avatars), but it also shows he’s aware of what “belongs” to him and to others.

So to those who say that kids shouldn’t be let anywhere near computer games? Think again. There’s a time, a place, and a use for them.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Laptop Alchemy

[links for all programs at the end of this post]

There’s a really popular game for Android called Alchemy which Gillian’s eldest took quite a shine to on my phone. It’s a really simple game, involving dropping icons of the basic four elements onto each other to create newer items. These can then be used as blocks to make more complex ones and so on.

For example, mixing fire and water gives you alcohol, earth and air gives dust, dust and water gives mud… and so on. This version currently has 370 items to develop and discover. There is a “competing” program going by the name of Alchemy Classic which is the same but different. The programmers of this have also developed a PC version, but it’s a pain in the backside to install. There is also a new version from another developer called Alchemy ~ Genetics which does much the same thing with genetic traits of various creatures (wonderful gift to send to your Creationist friends – assuming Creationists have friends).

And, finally, there’s an excellent version for the PC (sorry Mac users). It’s programmed by Marius Bancila and the most recent version (2.0) can be downloaded from his blog (link below). It’s a small install and this new release has been re-jigged so that it works better on netbook screens. The old one kept expanding so that controls dropped off the bottom.

I’m giving this a plug partly as it’s such a good game and also because Marius has proven to be an excellent supporter of his own product. He happily listens to feedback both for bug fixes and new combinations of items. His Alchemy currently sports 444 different creations!

POINT TO NOTE – the game downloads as a single file within a ZIP archive. Just drag the file out of the archive and pop it somewhere to run it. For those who like things near and tidy, you can’t put the game into your Program Files folder where you’d normally store executables. For some reason it won’t then have permission to create and update the separate progress file so you’ll lose all your work each time to leave the game. Store it pretty much anywhere else! This may only be an issue under Windows 7/Vista, though.

A quick list of links for all four versions listed in this post:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Gaming extremes

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Prestige Edition
Yes. It comes with night vision goggles. Seriously.

I still follow the gaming press though I play about 2 hours of computer games a month right now – and that only when I visit my folks and load up Guitar Hero. There’s a bit of a buzz around about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Specifically, an early level which features some fairly “disturbing” content.

First up, folks – SPOILER. Don’t read on if you’re waiting for the game and want to be shocked by this bit. On your own head be it if you continue past this point.

Now, I’m pretty laid back. I see a game as it is. A game. But then, I’m not mental. And neither, very importantly, am I a parent. Some kind soul has uploaded a complete video of the offending level of the game. It is available from this linky-bit here. Again, don’t go and watch it if you’re bothered about spoilers.

The first thing that struck me is how incredible the gaming experience has become since I last bought a title for my PC. As I’ve been using laptops for the last 4 years or so, I’m not used to 3D graphics of that standard. When I did use my PC, I was topping out on the likes of GTA3. Graphics have come a long way in three years. Remember that the PS3 and Xbox 360 didn’t come out until after I’d packed all my stuff away and gone backpacking.

So what’s the furor about? Basically as part of one of the missions you have to shoot a lot of civilians. A lot. A whole airport full of them. With guns and stuff.

Now is this so bad? I mean, it’s fake isn’t it? Is it any worse than watching a disaster movie, or someone going on a rampage in a town in some violent film or other?

To me, the answer is no. But would I want a 12 year old to play the same game as me? Not in this instance, no. I may be getting soft in my old age, but there is a point where fantasy is obvious and this isn’t it. The game in question is grisly and this level in particular completely blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

I’m all for the likes of war games where you’re a soldier fighting other soldiers. With the atmosphere possible in today’s gaming environments it’s almost educational and the fact that teamplay and communication starts to enter into it actually appeals to me as far as providing them to kids is concerned. When your actions have consequences and there are reasons for performing them then it can pass on some kind of moral message – even if that message is “attack my country and I’ll shoot all your soldiers”.

However, running rampage in an airport from a terrorist’s viewpoint isn’t really conducive to a balanced view of life. While it’s still “just fun” it does cloud that moral viewpoint that sees to be hard to instil these days.

I’ve watched that video right through and all I can say is that it looks like a fun blast, but they still haven’t solved one flaw that’s been in games for ages – “living” characters just walking through corpses on the floor as if they were ghosts. I know it’s a nightmare if you make each corpse “solid” as they you have to jump/dodge round them. But how about some animation for just stepping on or around them that doesn’t involve the player having to hop around like a pogo stick?

I guess that’s the limit of my personal issues with it. The game has an 18 certificate. It’s there for a reason. It’s adult scenes and adult subject matter so it should be played by adults – or younger kids with parental discretion.

I really don’t see what the fuss is about.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Time Gentlemen, Please!

Clowns teaching Sex-Ed - what more do you need?
Clowns teaching Sex-Ed - what more do you need?

Time Gentlemen, Please! is the sequel to Ben There, Dan That which I railed about some time ago. Both are made by Zombie Cow Studios which seems to be a one-man act as far as I can ascertain.

I loved BTDT – it was one of the best graphic adventures I’d played in some time. If you like your humour quirkly and slightly disgusting then this is definitely for you. Playing right through will take you a couple of hours, even if you know the solution so the asking price of £2.99 is well worth it. After all, a cinema ticket costs twice that.

Pop over to the web site and nab yourself a copy. It’s Windows-only, which is a shame, but I’m sure it’ll keep me busy on the flight to Bangkok next week!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

More ways to waste your time

Puzzle Baron
Puzzle Baron

After giving a quick plug to another puzzle site recently, I discovered Puzzle Baron. It’s along the same lines with around a dozen different mental games. You can play some online, some are available to print out as PDF files, and others you can do both ways.

Definitely worth a look. It’s the first site I’ve found with free logic problems (you know, the ones with the grids?) as well as a version of Boggle.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]