Ever since becoming main stream, video games have been controversial parenting topic. Being a kid that grew up desiring a computer so I can play I have participated in this discussion for last 30+ years.
First as a child and now as a parent, I have valued video games very much. For me, they definitely present specific art form. Like a good book, movie, painting or music – games can tickle imagination and add to development of child. I would argue that out of all current art forms video games are the most interactive.
Of course, my view will be opposed by traditionalists. I’ve had few discussions where people found my notion of video games as “art” – preposterous.
Then there is also “staring at the screen” component. For inexperienced observer playing games is often seen as a worse alternative to watching TV. Especially if we talk about addicted gamers that spend 10+ hours daily in front of screen.
I actually agree on lots of negative aspects of gaming. But I think those are overshadowed by positive aspects.
For myself games played huge role in rising from humble background to being MS in IT with well paid job. There is no way I would be where I am if I hadn’t enjoyed Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, Fallout 2, Starcraft and similar titles during my teen years.
Why allow your child to play games?
Video games can have immense positive effect for developing child’s imagination. Unlike reading books or watching cartoons, playing games is extremely interactive experience. I would compare it to drawing – with added benefit of being a guided by narrative. Then there is also development of fine motor skills and coordination. Certain types of games can help a lot with memory and brain development. And finally – relaxation. We all have seen what iPads have done for babies and toddlers lately. You can’t seem to get them off the YouTube… and that’s not even a game, just app with video.
What to avoid?
I would say that most negative aspects of gaming parents point out are absolutely valid. I, as a parent, have a checklist against which I consider games.
Before purchase I always consider if certain game is good investment of time for my child:
- Back-story and artistic qualities – what can my child learn from this game? There should always be a story behind a game child consumes. Sure, you don’t need to look for deep and extensive narrative. But there always should be some basic qualities. Games can teach children a lot on important topics: bravery, sacrifice, effort, right and wrong.
- Online – I have a strong stance against allowing my child to play online games. The core problem is that these games focus immensely on competition. So, when we are talking about toddlers or children under age of 10 – there is simply no benefit for them to play these games. I would separate multiplayer from online. Couch co-op games, for example, are great for toddlers. You get to share some time with your child and interact together in fun activity.
- Grind – I would use games on mobile platforms (iPad/iPhone/Android) as a great example. Don’t get me wrong – some games on mobile platforms are perfect for young children and their development. But, the big problem here is industry focus on free-to-play model. Most games on mobile platforms are what I call “grindy”. You repeat certain action over and over. And while this can be stimulating and addictive, grinding for virtual stuff is definitely not the best use of time for child.
- Difficulty – great games should be easy to get into and enjoy. This is especially true for toddlers – when starting most of them are doing great if they are able to move character on screen correctly. Unfortunately, not many games enable this experience; majority requires somewhat complex hand movement even for most basic actions. Then there are also punishing dynamics – making mistakes often costs you in-game life and requires you to restart from earlier point. If game is too difficult child will quickly become bored. So, any game you are purchasing for your toddler needs to be forgiving and able to guide him toward higher level of play.
Best video games for toddlers to start with?
During the past year I have tried playing variety of games with my child. We experimented with different platforms and while playing I’ve gauged her reaction. Is she engrossed in experience, how well can she play game on her own and so on. But in the end there is one series that completely stood out. It’s Kirby games collection from HAL & Nintendo.
First, on Nintendo – as a gamer I was puzzled on their success. I understood that they had some well known brands like Mario. But to me it never seemed as that big of a deal. I always expected them to fall the same way Sega did, and eventually stop producing hardware. But as soon as I tried their games as a parent – I instantly understood their success.
Nintendo immensely focuses on younger audiences. It is really hard to find anything objectionable in their games. Graphics are very often cartoonish and mechanics, while simple, allow for skilled play.
Finally, most of premier Nintendo games have couch multiplayer component allowing you to play alongside your child. This is invaluable feature since it mimics real life – you accompany and help as needed.
Kirby games especially shine on the “couch multiplayer” front. They seem to be purposefully designed for main player (parent) to lead. Kirby & The Rainbow Curse is the most obvious example, where screen focuses on main player who leads by drawing paths. This is unlike other game series like Super Mario Bros, where one player can block screen or lose life if he is lagging behind.
Also, Kirby games are great from story perspective. There are often cinematic moments in which Kirby gets to shine and save the day. I mean – it’s likely that you as a parent will also become a fan of the cute little pink blob when you see his exploits. Then there are also other subtle positive queues. For example: Kirby restores his health by eating variety of food. He also can propagate health restoring by kissing other players.
Surprisingly our picky eater absorbed both mechanics! She started eating bananas and we parents get lots of kisses. Win-win.
What’s the best way to start enjoying Kirby games?
Now that Wii U is at end of production cycle, it’s probably the best time to buy. I have purchased Refurbished Wii U directly from Nintendo for $200. For practical purposes it is the same as New which sells for $300 at retailers like Target.
As for which game you should start with, it’s definitely – Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. Even though the title was released in 2011, it still retails for $40; that says a lot about its longevity. You can even play it on old Wii console (which you can buy for $70 or less!). But again, if you are buying a new console you are better off with Wii U vs older Wii… there is backwards compatibility, HDMI output and Wii U has other games which are great for toddlers (Super Mario 3D World for example).
Once you have Wii U, you can even opt out to buy your games digitally. In that case you’ll be able to purchase Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on eShop for $20. Nintendo often has special sales where price for Kirby can go below $10. In any case, you will be far removed from $60+ which is what newly released AAA titles sell for these days.
Finally, another great source of Wii U games can be your public library. I was shocked when I discovered how many Wii U games my library had. This is also a huge unintended benefit – my child is now pretty excited to go to library. We get a book on top of each game we rent and then enjoy both when we get home. This gives us something exciting to do every week.
Video games can really enrich childhood. By playing games like Kirby’s Return to Dreamland your child develops hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. He or she will also expand his imagination and character – seeing how Kirby sacrifices and battles in the name of good and saving others. Of course, too much of a good thing can be bad. If child ends up spending hours on couch, that will impair his or hers other areas of development. However, that’s where you as a parent step in. Until your child is able to read books or productively occupy his/ her time in some other manner – use games like Kirby as a valuable development tool.
HowToAddict is writer of great how to guides, product reviews and daily motivational posts. He maintains a blog on which he posts several times a week and tries to help his readers on variety of topics.
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