Friday, October 19, 2007

What My Kid Learns Playing Arcade Games

There always seems to be a lot in the popular press about what terrible things video games are: they waste time, make you fat, and cause kids to shoot up schools.

The scholarly press seems have a different view in general. Games can be used for training (the army, second life), exercise (dance dance revolution), and encourage cooperation and give them community (massive multiplayers).

Here's something that struck me while I was playing a game with my daughter the other day: do video games help you learn real life skills?

Sometimes, when I go home after work, and I want to spend time with my kid and don't want to re-enact Pokemon battles, we color. Sometimes, we play games. Given the number of posts on this site about playing games, that should surprise no-one. We play card games: War, and Go Fish, and Uno, and Old Maid. We've played Candyland. We play a cheaty, kid version Scrabble. The benefits of Scrabble are probably obvious: it reinforces spelling, a practical and immediately applicable skill.

War, however, I found to boost her understanding of, and speed at, matching value. Old Maid, Uno, and Go Fish are all matching games, improving pattern recognition. In addition, they teach order of operations and patience. She is much better than when she began at doing chores in their proper order. I think it may have made our mornings easier, as she has gotten used to standardizing processes.

Sometimes, we play video games. She has watched both Mumma and Daddy play MMPORGs. She likes the action. But with her, we've played some kid online games, and a bunch of arcade: Bejeweled, Supercollapse, I Spy. My favorite is what she calls the Fishy Game, or Feeding Frenzy.

In Feeding Frenzy, you play a little fish that eats littler fish. As you complete a level, you get bigger, and eat bigger fish. You have to avoid obstacles, and avoid getting eaten by the bigger fish.

This could be construed as violent, I suppose. Nature is violent, but not in this obviously cartoony, scaling power kind of way. It's not realistic.

But I remember that when we started playing, she would pass the game to me when she got scared of a level (we take turns). She would return to the lower levels again and again. As I encouraged her, she stopped taking the "death" of her fishy game avatar too seriously. Now, when her fish, gets eaten, she says, "that's okay, I don't care."

I still get upset when my fishy gets eaten. The pupil surpasses the master.

This last time we were playing, she kept forgetting to pass the mouse to me on my turn. She kept going up and up levels, through levels that she used to shy away from. She was really good at this silly little arcade game, picking up skills that I still had trouble with, like sneaking up on the squids to eat them before they squirted her with ink.

When she did pass me my turn, she kept hassling me. "Are you sure you don't want me to play this level, Daddy? Here, let me do it. You're going to get busted."

It was great.

I wonder if this experience applies to real life. Is she learning anything about appropriate risk taking? She is certainly learning confidence. Some studies would say video games are good for hand-eye coordination. I personally think she is learning real world skills, and it makes me happy. Because I like the video games, too. I'll be sad when she moves past arcade games to consol games. Those just go right over my head.

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