In early childhood, children are play digital games which are available on computers, tablets, mobile phones, handheld devices and consoles. Although the domestication of computers saw computer and video games enter the home in the 1970s, children played them predominantly as stand-alone entertainment. Today, computer and video games are Internet enabled and connected to global networks, where children routinely interact with other players though synchronous and asynchronous media. The content of this media can be publicly available, and where players can see their performance and compare to that of others. Today’s networked games are a part of the global ‘social media’ phenomenon.
For parents, there is an feeling of tension between a games ability to provide fun, interactive experiences, rich in skill building and cognitive development and potential unhealthy behaviors and experiences. The broader cultural, held by adults is a belief that time spent ‘online’ is at the expense of ‘real life’ and not part of life. There are many unresolved questions around what we now attribute as being ‘real life’, given the increasing acculturation of technology in to our cyborg-lifestyles.
Since the advent of the home micro-computer, media messages have appealed to parents using glossy box artwork and appealing messages. Animated characters that respond to human suggestions, because they are controlled by other humans, might appear more real, that a game character than only responds to two or three triggers.
What processes do game-developers go through to create age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate game network experiences for games rated as “U” for Universal? What responsibility have game-developers to clearly articulate the nature of the ‘networks’ that their games are played on. A quick example being Linden Lab’s move to ‘ban’ gambling and later move ‘sexual’ content off the main-grid was widely discussed – yet when a new game offers multiplayer, there is not reference at all to the nature of the ‘network’ experience of playing with others – and the kind of media others often create and refer to as part of ‘social-play’.
As younger children are less able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, animated characters do seem real, as do their superhuman powers, and the often complex sub-text running though the game as a narrative will be un-detected or mis-interpreted. Children’s ego-centric nature is struggling to make sense of the media offered – and may well lead them to believe that small red birds are indeed angry and able to topple buildings if thrown.
I’d be interested to hear what games you think are good for under 6’s and what kind of design considerations you think might have gone into them … if you have a few minutes to reply, I’d appreciate it.