The holidays are around the corner and most parents have already begun shopping, or are preparing to start. Video games are certain to be on children’s lists, which may cause a problem for parents who often are unaware of what type of game they are giving their kids.
New Mexico State University has been aware of the advancements in gaming technology, creating the Learning Games Lab in 2006. The lab was designed to research and test educational computer and console-based games. Barbara Chamberlin, associate professor and extension instructional design and educational media specialist, serves as the current project director of the Learning Games Lab, and has compiled a list of tips to help parents avoid headaches and confusion while shopping.
Chamberlin recommended parents use the Educational Software Review Board ratings printed on every game package as a guide. Many of the games kids may hear about and request could be inappropriate for their age. Based on violence, language and mature activities or themes, the ESRB has a consistent rating system for every game sold.
A game will be rated for “Early Childhood,” “Everyone,” “Everyone Ages 10 and Older,” “Teen,” “Mature” and “Adult.” Titles rated “Mature” may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language, and should be purchased only for gamers 17 and older. Be sure to check the icon on the game package, as many of the games children hear about and ask for are rated “mature” and are likely inappropriate for young teens. More information about these ratings can be found at esrb.org.
Chamberlin said there are primarily two types of games to play: passive and active. Passive games involve the gamer playing the game solely with a controller, while active games require the gamer to stand, jump or move quickly and use controllers with their feet or hands.
She suggested replacing some passive screen time with active screen time. For example, instead of using only their thumbs while relaxing on a couch, gamers can move, jump and swing through a series of “active games” or “exergames.” Though active games have been around for some time, Nintendo’s Wii introduced them to many homes.
Games like “Dance Dance Revolution,” in which players dance on a physical mat while following music and stepping to the beat in the game, can burn considerable calories and are available for most game consoles, including the older PlayStation II. Nintendo’s Fit and Balance Board, used with the Wii console, facilitates games requiring balance and stability, including yoga and Pilates.
Active games include games that challenge players with scores and fun activities, as well as more interactive fitness programs. Ask a store clerk for some suggestions, or encourage your child to do their own research and add one or two of these games to their wish lists.
Chamberlin also advised doing some research on educational games before parents buy them because educational games aren’t easy to find, and they usually aren’t highlighted at the front of the store with their better-selling cousins. However, several quality titles exist. Rather than look specifically for grade-specific titles, browse the shelves for titles that include language, math, and science development.
“Parents can make a model for their children,” Chamberlin said. “By including some educational titles in their library, children learn that education isn’t something that just takes place in the classroom.”
Asking children what types of educational games are interesting may lead to an entire section of a game store or online product search that children have yet to explore.
Chamberlin explained that parents should take advantage of the changes occurring within the gaming world and use video games to plan a family night.
“Gaming isn’t something that is just done by kids by themselves,” Chamberlin said. “It has changed into something parents and families can do together.”
One of the benefits to systems with non-traditional interfaces -games where you don’t have to use only your thumbs or a joystick- is that families tend to play together. Grandma, teenagers and 6-year-olds can all easily use the Wiimote with the Nintendo Wii to bowl. Get involved in the gaming life of children and ask them to demonstrate how to play. Games are fun, even for adults.
Chamberlin advised parents to look for recommendations or ask for help from store clerks because clerks know games, often because they are young adults who play them. Let them know the ages of children in the family and goals, such as games that the family can play together, educational titles or exergames.
Commonsensemedia.org and other Web sites are devoted to helping families identify age-appropriate and beneficial games. Search for “educational game recommendations” in any search engine to find additional blogs and online resources. By taking an active role in choosing and evaluating the games, shoppers can find significant benefit in how gaming free time impacts the family.
Chamberlin advises parents to be informed on gaming because they could soon be buying their own games.
“Games are changing and becoming more interactive,” Chamberlin said. “Developers used to target a demographic, males aged 13 to 24, but now they are making games for middle-aged housewives, senior citizens and toddlers. There is no digital divide with the gaming industry; it cuts across gender, age and even socioeconomic status.”
For more information, contact Chamberlin at (575) 646-2848 or visit learninggameslab.org.
Source: New Mexico State University