‘This game’s just come out.’ I’m showing one of my colleagues Monument Valley 2. I loved the first one, and I’m pretty sure her daughter will really like it.
‘Thanks,’ my colleague furrows her brow and stares at the iPad I’ve thrust into her hands. ‘I never know what games are good – I mean, not good but good. Does that make sense?’
I nod my head. It makes perfect sense. No one knows. That’s the problem. Or, to put it another way, very few parents know. And what, exactly, makes a good game anyway?
I’m a university lecturer. I teach creative writing, how stories can develop learning, the digital world and how games work. And it’s a question my students often ask me, particularly those students with gaming children. Actually, there are a whole host of questions that they ask me.
And there are lots, and lots of answers.
‘Is it ok for a fourteen-year-old to play a game with a PEGI 18 rating?’ Well, that depends on the emotional intelligence of the fourteen-year-old and the emotional intelligence of the game. So probably not.
‘Why do children want to play on their game console all of the time?’ Well… games offer us something that we crave but rarely find anywhere else – challenge. Specifically, the right level of challenge to enable each player to continue to progress at their own speed. And this, quite frankly, is essential if you want to obtain flow. You know, that feeling you get when you are so involved in the activity that time ceases to have meaning. Incidentally, also the title of another great game.
‘What about people skills?’ Seriously? You’re asking me this question while you scan your phone. While. You. Are. Scanning. Your. Phone.
I could go on… actually I will, just for a moment because the phone thing really, you know, pisses me off. I use my phone a lot too. And I have a three-year-old daughter. When I’m with her, I suddenly become aware of the phone that I keep looking at. And I make myself put it away.
Smart phones and the apps we use every day rely on game mechanics to keep us checking them (we should probably think less in terms of using our phones and more in terms of playing them). But when I’m with my daughter I try really hard not to look at my phone, because she should not have to compete for my attention with a phone. A. Phone.
And I would say that the odd glance at society (just a quick glance as I look up from my phone), would seem to confirm that we are all doing this. We are all staring into tiny handheld screens clicking ‘like’ and ignoring our kids. And for some reason we’re worried about the games that actually call themselves games and, for the most part, endeavour to engage children (and adults) in activities that are actually fulfilling.
The issue – or at least one issue – is not that games are bad. It is that they are not understood. And parents, in particular, seem to find them truly bemusing. So, ok, parents might need a bit of help to work out what is good about games.
Hence the conversation I was having with my colleague. I sent her an email with a bunch of suggestions for her daughter. I do that a lot for the people I work with and for my students. But I only know a bit, about a bit. If only there was someone else who spent a whole heap of time on this thing… and if only they were writing a book about it…
Wait a minute!
I’ve been following Andy Robertson on Twitter for several years now. And he has addressed this exact need. I pre-ordered a book he’s written called Taming Gaming, and ever since clicking the lovely pre-order button, the concept of this book keeps tugging at my mind. And I think it’s because so many people have asked me about games and children over so many years. I’ve ordered the book so I can show it to my students and my colleagues and direct them to it (and also so that I can read it). But then I thought I’d write a blog and suggest it to as many people as I can.
It looks good. Not just good but, you know, good.
And as soon as I get my copy I will write a full review. In the meantime, though, you may want to have a gander yourselves…