Like all fathers, I want the best for my kids. And like all parents, I have that innate desire to provide them with a healthy environment that nourishes in every way possible. But apps don’t come with the equivalent of nutrition labels, and I’m often frustrated to find myself in the dark, unable to tell just what it is that my kids are consuming. That’s a big problem.
Keeping up with the casual gaming market is harder than keeping up with the Kardashians. Casual gaming is expected to mushroom to an astonishing $8.64 billion by next year, and it’s clear that a large portion of casual gamers are children and young adults. This leaves us parents in a lurch: with thousands of titles out there to choose from, and with life growing busier by the minute, how might we tell what’s valuable and what’s dross?
I’d like to think they read Gamezebo like this, too
This question is particularly vexing to someone like myself; in addition to being a dad—my first and most important job—I run a successful gaming studio that produces apps for kids. When we started TabTale, my partners and I knew that we weren’t going to be in the educational games market, but we also realized that we would never want to produce something we wouldn’t like our own kids to play with.
To address this issue, we wanted to put structure around our beliefs that could be used as a guide – for developers, for retailers, for reviewers, educators and parents. To do this we set out to create a video game value check list to help discern what made a game worthwhile, and partnered with a video game scholar from NYU to do so.
What we found surprised us. Frequently maligned by parents and educators as a frivolous waste of time, we learned that games possessed many attributes that sharpened children’s cognitive abilities. Here is some of what we learned:
We Can Relate to Video Games: We learned that video games can be effective educational tools because games create what scholars call “identification,” enabling players to inhabit a character and see the world through its eyes. Rather than present abstract challenges, then, young players are asked to solve specific problems in the context of specific stories, which makes the learning experience feel more concrete.
(Digital) Exploration Opens Doors: Who knew that exploring the world on your own terms was educational? Rather than just demand that players solve problems and move on, video games, allow players to explore the world devising different solutions to problems and trying out a number of alternatives. This is what one game designer labeled “the space of possibility,” and it permits for just the sort of learning – imaginative, personalized, meaningful – that we cherish most.
Structure Matters: The greatest accomplishment of game design is that it is based on a sequential order in which players are met with increasingly more complex problems – each predicated on a previous lesson learned – and are rewarded for solving them. In other words, unlike high school, say, which often unloads a frightening amount of information on young minds and expects them to memorize copious amounts of data, video games take a more structured approach in which everything that is learned is used to solve the next challenge, and every solution yields immediate results.
This type of structure creates a performance-based environment, leads to systemic thinking, boosts pattern recognition, and allows for immediate grasp of context. In short, it enhances all the traits we expect successful adults to possess when competing in today’s technology-driven workforce.
Infographic provided by TabTale
If you’re worried, however, that hours of game play will turn your kids into algorithmically minded machines, fear not: one large reason video games are so successful is because they deliver a tremendous emotional impact. This is no minor point: at their prime, games and education alike are primarily experiential things, processes that appeal not only to the mind but to the heart as well. If something moves us, we’re much more likely to pay attention and care, and games have become very adept at delivering powerful emotions and harnessing them in the service of complex intellectual challenges.
The kids are back in school, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to stop playing with their iPads and iPhones. Knowing this, let’s pay attention not only to their textbooks and homework but also to the seemingly innocuous games they play at their leisure, and let us make sure that we steer them towards games that are just as rewarding and stimulating as the greatest school assignment. Done right, it’ll be an educational experience for parents, and developers, as well. We will all be rewarded for taking play seriously.
Sagi Schleisser is CEO and co-founder of leading kids app developer, TabTale. Sagi has had more than 20 years of experience in leading startups and tech companies, and also authored the 2007 book, Hi-Tech Dad, about a father working in the technology industry. He founded TabTale in 2010 after feeling that he could create better digital content for his kids than what was available, particularly on emerging mobile platforms. TabTale has produced a complete library of interactive books, games, and educational offerings for kids, most of them for free.