So this morning I downloaded the trial copy of Braid, a game discussed in Tom Bissel’s excellent book, Extra Lives. It’s also a game we’ll be playing and discussing soon in our Game Culture class so I wanted to take a sneak peek.
And as soon as the television goes on, Grey is immediately interested. He loves his Thomas the Tank Engine movies on Netflix, although we try to limit his television watching. The game, as I expected, is gorgeous, infused with a Monet-like beauty and accompanied by a lovely, haunting soundtrack. Well you can’t just download a game without playing a little, and for awhile Grey watched, enthralled.
Then he wanted a turn.
Without much hesitation I handed him the controller and talked about the (limited) controls: how to move, how to jump, how to open doors, how to rewind time. He was thrilled to control Tim, the game’s character, and loved it anytime either of us (I was helping out a lot) beat the challenge and won a puzzle piece, which is the entire point of the level. He got bored after a little bit and went back to his train set.
I’m sure lots of parents think this was not a good move, but I’m looking at it differently. We talked about letters (“push the A button”) and colors (“the blue button makes time go back”) and directions (“keep going to the right… now back to the left”). He also worked on a little coordination. In contrast, a book doesn’t give a child any feedback–it doesn’t do anything if the kid correctly says that the shoes in the picture are red–and that’s why parents read with their kids, right? To give encouragement and feedback, to correct any mistakes and to clarify any questions. The difference here is that I was still giving him direction, clarifications, and advice, and the game also gave feedback. Pushing the green ‘A’ button makes Tim jump, and the look of delight on Grey’s face suggests that making Tim jump up a couple platforms felt like quite an accomplishment.
I’m not suggesting that videogames replace books or other educational tools we have to teach our kids; I am suggesting however that games can be incorporated into the many media we use to teach our kids about the world. Like other media, the parent has to choose appropriate titles and be an active participant in the proceedings, giving feedback and staying involved. Grey got bored after about 15 minutes and went back to his trains, but I can see us (or at least me) moving towards a position where playing a game becomes like watching a movie–Grey will be allowed so much movie OR game time a day, his choice. We’ll see how the wife feels about that…
But now we’re going to go play at the park.