The image of a video gamer has changed over time. We no longer think of video gamers as friendless college boys alone in their rooms. Today’s video gamers are boys and girls of all ages. Even dads and moms play video games today. In fact, today’s games are not only fun, but according to recent research many are educational.
Can video games really be educational? More and more people are saying yes. Teachers, students and researchers are finding ways that video games increase interest and participation in learning. This is particularly true when parents and kids play together.
One of the ways that we learn is through play. As we grow up our play becomes more complicated and we learn to think and work in new ways. When we add rules and goals, our play becomes a game. Video games can be good for the brain. They can teach us everything from math and English to art and geography. Some games are specifically developed to teach, others teach through their requirements for solving puzzles or the need to navigate new environments.
Unfortunately, like television, video game consoles are often used as babysitters. This has led to children playing games that may be inappropriate for their social and developmental maturity levels. One way to avoid this is to play games with your kids. Whether you spend ten minutes or an hour a day, the smiles and laughter you share with your child will make gaming together well worth the time.
Sometimes, parents who have never played a video game fear they will look foolish. This is the moment to allow your son or daughter to shine. Ask them to teach you. It is rare that kids have the opportunity to show off skills and train an adult. They will love it. Even the surliest teen will crack a smile when Dad spins off the track and crashes into the rail in a Grand Turismo match or meets his demise under the alien invasion in Halo’s co-operative game play.
Now that the holiday gift giving season is around the corner, it is a perfect time for dads to think about games that will help with their kids’ studies as well as be fun to play together. Whether your child is a third grader or a high school senior, there are some great opportunities to learn while having fun with video games.
Several game development companies are devoted to designing video games that help kids learn. One of them is Big Fish Games, a company started by a group from Lucas Arts, the developers of the Star Wars games. From games that teach about animal habitats and the solar system, like Wild Thornberry’s Australian Wildlife Rescue and Chicken Invaders 2, to mind bending puzzle games and challenging word group associations such as BeTrapped and WordSearch Delux, Big Fish Games offers entertaining and economical educational games. (Big Fish Games: www.bigfishgames.com)
Broderbund may have a funny name, but they make some exciting educational games. Elementary students can explore spooky museums and learn about bugs with Scooby-Doo in The Glowing Bug-Man or follow the real life journey of the Oregon Trail, while middle and high school students can explore the features of shapes and solids and the relationship between length, perimeter, area and volume with Mighty Math’s Cosmic Geometry. (Broderbund: www.broderbund.com)
If you want your child to become a math wizard, MathShark by Educational Insights, a handheld math video game console will act as a tutor in basic skills from addition and subtraction to decimals and percentages, perfect for your first through fifth grader. (Educational Insights: www.edin.com)
But learning doesn’t just come from the video games that are designed specifically for education; there are some great learning experiences among the popular entertainment video games too. The most common types are action adventures, management, racing, real-time strategy, role-playing, simulation and world building games. What fun and challenging learning experiences can dads share with their gaming kids? Each of these types of games offers opportunities to develop new learning strategies and problem solving skills.
Tomb Raider and Half-Life, two long running series, are action adventure games that require players to use problem solving skills and information retention while exploring both imaginary and real world locations. Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Half-Life 2, the newest releases in these series, are available for most gaming systems. Tomb Raider has been rated ‘Teen’ by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), while Half-Life 2 received the ‘Mature,’ or over 17 rating.
Based on creating a business in a simulated environment, management games, like the Zoo Tycoon series, involve players in activities to raise funds for daily repairs and to pay workers. This requires the use of critical thinking and math skills. Zoo Tycoon games are available for PC, Nintendo DS and mobile game platforms. Most management games are rated ‘Everyone.’
The Gran Turismo and Grand Prix series provide the exciting experience of high speed racing in the safety of a virtual environment. Players must choose the right cars, develop quick eye-hand coordination, complete timed activities and use map data if they want to win the race. PC and PlayStation 2 & 3 versions are rated for ‘Everyone.’
Role-playing games, such as the Elder Scrolls, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series are usually science fiction or fantasy themed. Play is based on exploration and the completion of quests. Role-play games require reading directions, inventory and maps. There may be elements of fighting, but in many instances the player must decide whether fighting, or avoiding the fight is the best choice. Games in these series are widely available for consoles, PC and Mac. Ratings are generally ‘Teen’ from the ESRB. Online versions of role-playing games include the extremely popular World of Warcraft, and long running EverQuest series. Online game play offers the chance to create and play as a family clan, regardless of where family members are physically located. Families may play together long after kids are grown and have children of their own.
The simulation and strategy game groups contain everything from Model Trains 3D and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X to Empire Earth and Age of Empires. Game play ranges from building historical vehicles, flying a single prop plane or a jumbo jet to creating the history of new worlds or replaying the history of our own. These games allow us to experiment and discover how things work, or don’t work as we set goals and work to achieve them. Video game simulations and strategy games involve many of the same skills used in today’s science exploration.
The last category of entertainment games that provide opportunities to learn or practice real life skills is the world-building group of games. These include the Civilization series, SimCity 3000, Black and White and The Sims. World-building video games cover a wide range of game styles. The player must control either a character or an environment to encourage growth and progress. The game’s goal may be open-ended. The fun is often in changing the virtual world around you. Combat is rare in games of this type and they are usually available for consoles and computers. The ESRB rating for most is ‘Everyone.’
The video game industry offers a wide variety of player choices. Whether you are new to video games or a long time gamer, you are sure to find something fun, and educational to share with your kids this holiday season.
Jayel Gibson is an award-winning fantasy author of “The Ancient Mirrors Tale” series, a mother, teacher, and long-time gamer advocate. She still plays online games with her grown children, and is looking forward to grandparenthood and gaming with the next generation.