Monday, July 30, 2012

Co-Play, or Skyrim for Preschoolers

©2008 sean dreilinger via flickr and GeekDad
Today's "must read" article for anyone researching and/or working in the area of kids' games/digi-culture is brought to you by Brainy Gamer's Michael Abbott, in the form of this lovely and thought provoking blog post about kids, games and fostering rich, meaningful digital play experiences. Abbott opens with the following very true, very awesome statement...:
Good teachers know something about kids that most game developers have yet to learn: don’t underestimate them. Don’t equate accessible with dumbed down. Pitch high and they will reach.
 ...and goes on to develop a couple of really key arguments about kid gamers & some good points about the current state of kids gaming too. What I appreciate most about the post is Abbott's insight into what kids want (and the implication that the industry oftentimes fails to provide them with these things, even though the things themselves are seen as pretty fundamental when games are designed for mainstream (re: teen and adult) markets). He writes:
...too many kids games rely on flash-card pedagogy that quickly wears thin.
It turns out that young kids (I’m mainly focusing on preschool and young elementary age) desire the same rich experiences that adults seek in video games: content discoverable through play, activities that feel rewarding, mechanics that offer fun things to do, and a sense of richness that suggests the game is always waiting for the player to return and continue her journey.
So true. Abbott then goes on to describe how co-playing can provide an excellent way for parents and kids to share in a richer gaming experience than currently available in many child-specific games, based on his own experience playing Skyrim with his 4-year old daughter. The key to Abbott's approach is "playing ahead" - in that he pre-screens everything in advance, so he already knows if a particular quest or area will be suitable for his daughter before their play session begins. The post is full of great tips and warnings, which are furthermore listed in a handy 8 step guide. Be sure to check it out here.

I would love to see more of these types of things getting circulated - wouldn't it be great to have a crowdsourced parents' guide to playing awesome T-rated games with your younger kids wiki somewhere???

***On a related note, while looking for the above image, I came across an older article in Wired magazine's GeekDad section by Kevin Makice (that I had seen before but hadn't posted on - oops), about recent research indicating that girls in particular benefit from co-playing videogames with their parents...definitely worth a read as well.*****

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Regulating Apps for Kids

©2011 Beeline Interactive, Inc. Smurf Village screenshot via iPad Jailbreak

This article by Stuart Dredge published in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago is definitely worth a quick read through. In it, Dredge interviews various people (attending the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield in early July) involved in making (& consulting) apps for kids in regards to the apparent lack of movement seen thus far on the controversial issue of in-app purchasing/marketing to young kids (**as you'll read below, Dredge notes that it's already been over a year since the big Smurf Village controversy). As Dredge describes:
A year on from the first high-profile controversy around children and in-app purchases (IAP) in apps – the Smurfs' Village game on iOS – some elements of the apps industry still haven't learned the lessons.
That game's developer has just released a Shrek game that offers a £6.99 IAP at the end of its tutorial – within the 15-minute window which, for parents who have not changed their default settings, means children won't have to enter a password in order to buy.
Elsewhere, games are suggesting $99.99 purchases to help children buy Chickity Puff creatures, and selling gems to cure virtual pets. Meanwhile, despite Apple improving the parental controls in iOS, there are still parents facing unexpected iTunes bills for virtual items bought by their children.
The  article includes a couple of different opinions from key industry players, as well as some discussion of government vs. industry-self regulation, though doesn't delve TOO deeply into these questions (or the ethical questions these practices - and some of the conference's speakers - raise). Still - it's good to see that the issue hasn't disappeared completely, and I'm hoping that the discussion continues and evolves into something a little more focused as these devices (& associated, emerging commercial practices) continue to spread and attract public scrutiny.

On a related note - I found a copy of the image above on iPad Jailbreak, accompanying some instructions on how to block in-app purchases on your iOS device. A potentially useful strategy for parents/kids to use while they wait for a clearer, more effective infrastructure to emerge.