I have a six year old son who loves videogames. I love videogames. So this works out great for the family toy-shopping budget. But this article isn't about how to cut your monthly expenses by having offspring who share your taste in digital entertainment. Nope. That will have to wait.
I still meet a lot of parents who are concerned, and sometimes even shocked, that I let my son play the kind of games he does. This is to share my experience with them and those among you like them, who are confused about letting their children play the games they seem to love so much.
First things first – I don't let my son play violent, twisted, or morally ambiguous titles. No GTA. No Mortal Kombat. No Resident Evil. Cartoonish violence is fine with me though. I'd prefer my son to play Street Fighter IV rather than watch supid TV serials where ordinary people (just like the friends and family he relates to) lie, cheat and even kill each other due to money, ego and sex. Now, that's some truly sick shite, and yet I don't hear too many parents expressing concern about kids watching these works of art.
But the really interesting part? Left to himself, my son naturally gravitates towards games where you create things, as opposed to destroy them. In the past few months, the majority of his game time has been spent building things in the Spore creature, building and vehicle creators, building his own levels in Boom Blox and Little Big Planet, and making music in Wii Music. Yes, he'll sometimes prefer a session of SF IV or Super Mario Galaxy, but it's surprising how much he prefers to build and create, using the tools provided by games.
That's my son, building some creepy eight-legged spider-vehicle in SPORE.
Take Wii Music, for instance. When he began playing it, his attempts at making music were an absolute mess – he'd just randomly wave the Wiimote about, creating noises that would make Cacofonix sound like Jose Carreras. But now, he's showing a clearly improved understanding of musical concepts like tempo and pitch. He gets most of the pitch-matching and pattern recognition exercises correct. His jam sessions sound a lot nicer. And he just conducted an orchestra playing Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' for an 88% score, and thunderous applause from the virtual audience.
And no help from me. I just observe, and never intervene with his learning process. These games are great virtual teaching tools, designed by hardcore pros who know exactly how to help someone improve at a skill while keeping it fun, challenging and yet not frustrating. (Just ask my wife – who managed a 20% increase in Guitar Hero accuracy over a single two hour play session).
Playing with Boom Blox or Spore's creators are similar to playing with Lego or Play-Doh – stimulating the child's imagination in very similar ways. Yes, playing with physical toys provides a tactile experience that cannot be replicated in a videogame, but on the other hand, videogames open up creative possibilities and features that are impossible with physical toys.
Also, my son is a normal child who enjoys reading, cartoons, music, mucking about with toys, playing in water, painting, climbing trees, hanging out with his friends, and playing cruel pranks on his mother. He's not obsessed with videogames, nor are they a mystery to him – they're just a part of his overall scheme of things.
My point? By integrating the right videogames into a child's play mix, there are benefits to be had that many of you may not have thought possible.