Children Playing Video Games

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The NY Times web site has a great video of children playing videogames from photographer and video artist, Robbie Cooper (you can watch a higher quality original plus stills on his site).

In 2009 he will be teaming up with the Media Centre at Bournemouth University as part of their ‘War and Liesure’ project. They will then analyse the footage using Paul Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS). (I didn’t realise that Ekman had published so many books with the all the images of his research).

I don’t get the feeling that Cooper is judging gamers or videogames either way, more that he is fascinated children as they play them, particularly war games because war is outside (most) children’s daily experience.

His blog is also worth having a look through, there are some great finds there including his responses to the comments about Immersion.

Should you feel the need for the antidote, I can recommend Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.

Programming for children

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Following on from my post and Nigel’s comments about Clicktoy, I just found Scratch, which is a simple multimedia authoring environment for children. It looks like it outputs to java applets as a playback format.

The team is led by Mitch Resnick at MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten, which would frankly be my dream academic post.

Scratch is free to download and is for Windows and OS X.

[tags]games, programming, multimedia, children, MIT, Scratch[/tags]

ClickToy – A game for two year-olds

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Image: ClickToy Interactive Inc.

Old skool interaction designers will remember Grandma and Me and the rest of Broderbund’s Living Books series. Those early ‘multimedia’ children’s books were some of the best examples of simple, playful interactivity. Anything on the screen that looked like it could be clicked did something – there was rarely a disappointment. Every tiny corner held a little interactive surprise and was surprisingly compelling. Some of those principles still influence the way I think about interactivity 15 years on.

Much of that approach has been lost in many current videogames, yet the truth is, many two year-olds play around on the computer and most of the stuff available is either a bit too gruesome or a bit too ‘edutainment’ focussed.

Clicktoy by long-time games developer, Ken Kavanagh, is a completely unstructured play environment. The first game, Meadow, is, well, a meadow. You can navigate around the space and press keys to make things happen. That’s it.

Kavanagh says that he was trying to think of something that his two year-old could use and enjoy and spent some time staring at the keyboard. Eventually he boiled it down to the idea that there are 101 buttons and thought, “What can I make happen if you make every button do something different?”.

It’s a good approach to interaction design – look at what you have and think about what you can do with it, rather than dream up something grand and make a half-baked version of the dream. The open-ended play helps make the most of this approach.

“Children’s toys, like Fisher-Price toys, are super simple, they’re sandbox toys, open-ended play, no structure or goal, you just simply play with it,” says Kavanagh. “I wasn’t seeing that in software.”

The meadow, replete with bunny rabbits, deer, bumble bees, rainbows and flowers, was as innocent and as wholesome an environment as he could think of and also reflected his son’s existing soft toy collection.

Press a key and the bunnies hug each other, press another and an acorn falls from a tree and comically bounces of the deer’s head who looks around in surprise.

The lack of any story, which normally drives children’s games is also an interesting aspect, as anyone who has made up a story or watched a child make up a story can attest to.

“Since the game provides no narration I think it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to provide it as a parent. We can make up a story about the bunnies visiting their friends.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether this kind of thing gains ground. There’s no doubt that it’s unlikely that very young children are going to ignore the computer. Letting them play seems like a good idea to me. Taking them to a real meadow to see the living ‘characters’ is probably a good idea too. Like Disney without the associated McDonald’s merchandising.

(Via CBC News)

[tags]games, clicktoy, children, broderbund, living books[/tags]