Brief review of games/tech related articles in Child magazine

I found some interesting articles in Child magazine, ‘SA’s best guide for parents’. Many schools in Cape Town distribute the Cape Town one for free to parents.

Six electronic gadgets that will help your children learn in a fun way lists DS Lite, iPad and Kinect. About Kinect, journo Tamlyn Vincent claims: “Why it works: While it comes with the normal assortment of games, Kinect also has a range of games that will help your children learn. Fantastic Pets and Kinectimals have you interacting with and learning about domestic and wild animals respectively. Body and Brain Connection gives the player a range of puzzles to test maths, logic and memory. There are also a variety of fitness and sports games to choose from.” Just the kind of thing parents love to hear.

The magazine’s back issues are easily accessible. The Cape Town Dec2010/Jan2011 mag has an article titled ‘MXit for Dummies‘  which I think is really nice because it’s a great guide for parents, informing them about MXit and how to get involved in their children’s social media experiences early on. This is very different to what I’ve experienced at schools – teachers are very anti MXit and many instill fear amongst parents and children about it. Children are told not to upload pictures to Facebook of them wearing their school uniforms because of the pedophiles out there, etc.

However, and article from the November 2010 edition titled “Fight or fantasy: Are electronic games making your child aggressive?” by Glynis Horning just reinforces moral panic by privileging effects research. However, one of the strengths of the article is that it says parents need to become more actively involved by learning more about games, playing them with their children and paying attention to ratings.

Sidetrack musing: Below is just one of the kinds of images Kinect uses, but Nintendo and Wii have very similar kinds of representations depicting a very idealized family life, most often there are two parents, the families are white, their home is immaculate and the family is shown playing together with big toothy smiles on their faces. C’mon – we all know that’s not how it looks on the home-front…

Shopping for kids

I was in Musica the other day to buy some USB speakers to use in my social media seminar (the lab doesn’t have additional plugs) and I found a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (pc game) for R 30! Games are really expensive consumer items and doing research with kids does not come cheap. I’m going to buy Create (a game that allows kids to design game scenes and be rewarded in the process of being creative) for the PlayStation 3 – it costs R 500! I’ve been very lucky to lend some age-appropriate PS3 games from my boyfriend and I’ve bought a lot of games on special from various stores. I will be doing some more fieldwork with the holiday club kids in April and I want to have a few new titles and genres available for them to play. Games research is expensive, I am starting to understand how parents feel. Your child comes home and has played this new console or that new game and they want it – what do you do?

 

Anyway, while I was in the store I overheard a mom, dad and their roughly 10 year old daughter. She wanted to get the Kinect (for XBox) and her parents were saying to her that it works out to be too expensive plus “your birthday has come and gone already”. I wanted to introduce myself and offer alternatives, but thought it rude to intrude because it would show I’d been eavesdropping. PlayStation Move? Which consoles do you own already and what do you want to play? However, this is something I do often when I’m in shops with games and I see children and listen to what they say, see what games they pull out etc. and their parents’ responses sometimes. It’s so fascinating! But I haven’t given advice…yet.

 

I’ve reached the conclusion that parents are a bit overwhelmed. Stores selling games are not organised like bookstores with lovely sections for kids. How, as a busy parent, are you supposed to figure out what’s suitable for your child and more importantly, affordable? For example, the latest Nintendo 3DS (yes, 3D gaming + social networking = ‘I want’) is R 2, 800!  How many parents can afford to buy this for their child or even want to spend so much on a hand-held console?
PS3 is around R 3 500 – a high-end graphics games console.

I think that in the future, shops selling games need to be organised like bookstores with information posters and booklets for parents. This will help families choose games together, more likely more appropriate ones too. Just because you buy your child the latest game at Toys R Us does not mean that it’s a children’s game. I am aware that many parents allow their children to play games rated unsuitable for their ages. I agree that some of the ratings for particular games are ridiculous. Ben 10 is rated age 12, but boys over 12 are much less interested in Ben 10. The conversation between the TV show, movie, merchandise and the games are not speaking the same language. I am not against parents who allow their children to play particular games. I have met many kids who do. As long as you are aware of the games’ content, consider it in relation to the rating, maintain a conversation with your child about the game and answer any questions they may have – wonderful!

For example, in the Sims, having sex is referred to as Whoohoo in Simlish (the language of the Sims). When you let your Sims participate in Whoohoo, their excitement levels go up (=happy Sims). The options are either to select whoohoo or try for a baby. I think that this could generate interesting conversations around sex education. In real life, unprotected whoohoo = 90% baby. Is your Sim wearing a condom? What happens next? What would happen in the real world. The reality is that in SA, children as young as 12 are having sex. Games featuring nudity and allusions to sex are rated 16. I think games can lead to interesting learning moments and form part of a child’s informal media education.