Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Raising Gamers With an Appetite for Learning

Somehow, while I wasn't looking, my kids grew up really, really fast. Five minutes ago (it seems) they were babies, and now they're strapping six and eight year old boys, and consuming media and entertainment more voraciously than anyone of my generation was able to.

A few years ago, I wrote something for What They Play (sadly unlinkable, as IGN have since closed the site) about the way my oldest son was digesting information through games. Both a little jock and a little geek, he is obsessed with both football and videogames, and through Madden on the Wii was able to bring all the loves of his life into one package at the age of five. He learned the more intricate rules of the sport using the game, but more importantly he was absorbing mathematical skills that helped him understand multiplication and division well before his teachers were prepared to broach the subject in first grade.

My youngest is similarly motivated thanks to games, and while not quite the jock that his older brother is has also learned how to count in base six and seven thanks to Madden, and mastered his basic mathematical skills thanks to a healthy love of baseball, the San Francisco Giants, and MLB 2K11.

For both my kids, I credit an unlikely source for their enormous appetite for reading. While both boys developed their fundamental controller skills thanks to the Lego Star Wars games (I can tell you where every hidden object is in Complete Saga thanks to having to play through the whole thing over and over...TWICE) it was the Lego Harry Potter games that inspired them to pick up their first "grown up" books and read them. A game with no dialog, and virtually no written communication besides instructions for loading a saved game, was instrumental in prompting my oldest to power his way through the first three books, and is now embarking on book four. Similarly, my youngest has already worked his way through The Sorcerer's Stone.

It's usually at this time of year that videogames take their turn being more vilified than usual; not just for their violent/antisocial/depraved/amoral (take your pick...they all come up) content, but also for their "unhealthy" contribution to sedentary lifestyles and to their lack of intellectual stimulation. This is garbage. Sure, if you let your eight year-old play Call of Duty online for hours on end unsupervised, then what the hell do you really expect? By being more involved in the selection of what your kids are playing, and not using them as an easy babysitting device (they sure do keep 'em quiet, I'll give them that) you can nurture appetites for more than just killing monsters.
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