Category Archives: Children

More on Minecraft

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

It’s almost impossible to overstate just how big a deal Minecraft is for my son and his friends.

The popularity and power of Minecraft continues to amaze me. Players tend to remain glued to the game/simulation for hours on end, not just playing but creating, experimenting, collaborating, sharing and learning.

Here’s a relink to Polygon’s piece on how the United Nations is utilizing Minecraft.

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War Ensemble

This is enough to sell me on Rocksmith 2014.

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Right and Wrong

Jessica Chobot on The Nerdist Podcast:

This is not a kids (necessarily) hobby anymore. When you’re selling game consoles at like 600 bucks a pop and games at 60 bucks a piece (or AAA titles because you’ve got your indies and they’re a little cheaper, but you get my point), that’s not just a child’s hobby.

Chris Hardwick replies:

And not only that, but I think the inherent value of , just like you said with your dad, is how you guys bonded. That’s how Chloe [Dyskra] and her dad bonded.

Chobot:

Totally. But you always hear the shit stories about, “Oh, kids are shooting up because they play too much Call of Duty.” Well, what about the father and daughter relationship that grew…

Hardwick:

It all boils down to your responsibility as a parent. And video games can be amazing if you’re a responsible parent, if you’re engaged. If you’re not a responsible parent, video games are not the thing that fucked your kid up. Something was going to get that kid sooner or later; (joking) whether it was backward masking on record albums or Devil worship…

Chobot:

Elvis dancing in front of the television…

I will stick with this until the day that I die: There is no excuse for parents to complain about games giving their children bad ideas to go do awful things because there are parental controls on the consoles, there are parental controls built into your TVs now, there are warning labels on all of your games, you have to have a license to even purchase them.

Yes, if they really wanted to go out there and get it [they’ll] find it. But if they are trying that hard to get on something you’ve told them “no” to multiple times and you have no idea what the hell is going on, then that lies in your lap, nobody else’s.

Hardwick:

I also feel like “things,” like games, “things” are inherently neutral. They don’t have any value except for the value people place on them. If someone has the right value system going into something, they’re not going to interpret that thing as, “this is what I should go do.” They need the right system in place in order to process those things.

My parents let me watch all kinds of stuff when I was a kid. The reason I became obsessed with stand-up was because my parents didn’t censor, I mean I couldn’t watch porn … but the idea that if you have good values going into something you’re probably going to take it in a better direction than if you didn’t.

But I’m talking out of the side of my face because I don’t have kids.

Chobot:

Just to play Devil’s advocate, I’ve only had one time where I’ve played a game that I walked out and the first thing I saw were targets. That would be Grand Theft Auto.

That’s when I was like, “Whoa. Now I can kind of see the angle of that argument.” But still, you have the morals in check because you were raised properly, and also the fact that I’m thirty-something-years-old and I can play a game like that and know the difference between right and wrong.

I’ve had similar feelings after long sessions with GTA. I’ve also had similarly profound feelings after watching movies, if not more so. A good adventure movie can make me want to adventure. A good motivational movie can pump me up. A good action movie can give me fantasies about speeding around traffic or doing impossibly dangerous stunts. Nevertheless, I don’t engage in dangerous or immoral behavior because I know the difference between right and wrong.

Is it possible that movies offer heightened emotive states due to their passive nature versus the participatory nature of video games? Does being able to participate in virtual acts of running, jumping, and shooting allow us to vent those fantasies rather than creating curiosity after simply watching?

On the note of parental controls, willingness to learn new technology is a huge factor in parenting. That said, tech developers also have a responsibility to provide clear and accessible controls for their audience. Not because older generations may struggle with implementation (heads up, many millennials are now parents), but because consumer UI should not be difficult to use.

Last bit: ET scared me. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is dark. Gremlins appeared to be a children’s movie but felt creepy and disturbing. I look at movies like Super 8, Transformers, and the new TMNT reboot and have to wonder if “children’s” movies are slowly harkening back to the darker tones established in the ’80s and early ’90s.

I spent a lot of my early childhood watching movies like Alien, Predator, Fire In The Sky, Conan the Barbarian, and Mad Max. I’d like to say that I turned out to be a pretty decent human being.

Alas, I too am talking out of the side of my face.

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If not Disneyland or Nintendo…

Jordan Shapiro, Forbes:

Disney characters are not as familiar to my kids as they were to me when I was their age. Perhaps it is because they have tablets, gaming consoles, and laptops. Their pop culture universe is dominated by Minecraft, Mario, Clash of Clans, and Pokemon. YouTube gamers are celebrities to them. While they (and I) enjoy those new Mickey Mouse shorts on the Disney Channel, we rarely set out to watch something because of the Disney brand.

I love Disneyland. Probably more than most. So much so that my NaNoWriMo novel took place within the gates if the Magic Kingdom. I have long dreamt of becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer; brainstorming, collaborating, and bringing to life grand new experiences for park guests. The idea of immersing myself in work that turned imagination into reality (even if it meant laying the brick myself!) always sounded… right.

However, I had an eerily similar thought last night. After setting down my copy of Console Wars by Blake J. Harris, I asked myself if I’d rather work for Disney or Nintendo?

Nintendo is full of characters I grew up, full of characters I love. Being born in 1985, the year the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was brought to North America, Mario, Mega Man (Capcom aside), and Link (rather, the name I chose) were the characters that ushered me into the world, and I them. These characters had no personality, just a mission and they need me to achieve it. They required immersion and connection.

Being raised in a world where the participatory nature of video games was quickly becoming the norm, I’m not sure how much observing a character or watching the moral to a story unfold actually affected me. I was obsessed the Aladdin’s Genie because he made me laugh, but until I really understood the nuances of storytelling and scope of reality (probably somewhere in mid-high school), I’m not sure I really identified with any Disney character. I just knew I wanted to be the good guy.

After spending the weekend enjoying Mario Kart 8 with my fiancée, I thought about how much joy the characters of the Mushroom Kingdom brought me; I thought about how excited I was for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, or how I would jump at the opportunity to buy the next Luigi’s Mansion installment, or how I wish Nintendo would launch a Princess Peach and Daisy centric title.

Don’t get me wrong, working as a Walt Disney Imagineer or in Nintendo’s Treehouse sounds like more than any fan could ever ask for. But given an equal opportunity at both, I’m not sure which I would choose. I don’t think I’m the only one from my generation who sits on this fence.

In a connected society full of massive, customizable, open worlds and bite-sized mobile games, will post-millennials fantasize about either? If we live in a perpetually fantastic world, does reality become the new fantasy?

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App: The Human Story

Björn Jeffery, Toca Boca:

Making apps for children: it’s not a perfect science, it’s more like art. This is sort of shaping kids’ memories of them growing up. That’s a big responsibility. That’s something we should be taking very seriously.

A big responsibility indeed.

‘App: The Human Story’ looks to be an extremely compelling, promising and well crafted documentary about the history and future of apps. The roster isn’t half bad either.

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Splatoon

Paul Tassi, excerpt from Fanboy Wars:

But as the industry matured, game makers started creating characters players cared about. Plots were contrived that could actually hold gamers’ attention. Players openly wept when Cloud’s beloved Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII. They gasped in disbelief during the finale of Star Wars: The Old Republic when it was revealed that the character they controlled was a villain the whole time.

Much of this was accomplished with rudimentary pixels and polygons, without anything approaching realistic graphics, the often purely text-based dialogue echoing the silent films of the ‘20s. Over the last decade, an explosion in gaming technology has allowed games to become almost photorealistic. Characters are sharply drawn, with professional voice actors inhabiting the speaking roles. Scripts take years to write, and stories can take a decade or more to be told over a series of games with three or more installments.

When the developers pull off these feats, games can become a transformative storytelling experience. Games actively put the player in the main character’s shoes, rather than forcing him or her to exist as a passive observer with no control over the protagonist’s actions.

E3 presented a stark difference between the photorealistic, mature titles presented by Microsoft and Sony contrasted against Nintendo’s doubling-down of a vibrant, cartoony atheistic. After listening to Jeff Cannata, Jeff Mattas and Matthew Burnside damn near wax-poetic about Splatoon on the latest episode of DLC (along with the success of Mario Kart 8), I am reminded that playful, non-narrative experiences are just as important as photorealistic, “transformative storytelling experiences.”

Splatoon as a playful territory shooter comes off as a hyper-realization of the Super Soaker wars I had growing up. Though the characters appear to be asexual, some inference can be made by stereotypically established gender attributes. This comes off as clever, well-thought art direction, allowing those who want to attribute gender to do so while others can be indifferent. Either way, the impact for children (likely the target audience) is immeasurable. The no-brainer act of allowing a child to conquer a map in the gender or appearance that best represents them is a simple way to reinforce a positive message about misguided gender dominance. Regardless of the chosen gender, everyone is on equal footing and contributing to a common goal. Only by allowing gender choice can that message be sent.

Online multiplayer carries a message that opposing virtual characters are exactly representative of the person on the other side. In reality, for all intents and purposes, gender is a near inescapable implication we carry with us, from simple Super Soaker wars to political war rooms. In virtual worlds (especially online), our gender is implied by the avatar we choose. Without choice, we all become the same (likely male) individual.

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A new definition of manhood

Colin Stokes, TEDx:

Another thing that’s really unique about “The Wizard of Oz” to me is that all of the most heroic and wise and even villainous characters are female.

Now I started to notice this when I actually showed “Star Wars” to my daughter, which was years later, and the situation was different. At that point I also had a son. He was only three at the time. He was not invited to the screening. He was too young for that. But he was the second child, and the level of supervision had plummeted. (Laughter) So he wandered in, and it imprinted on him like a mommy duck does to its duckling, and I don’t think he understands what’s going on, but he is sure soaking in it.

And I wonder what he’s soaking in. Is he picking up on the themes of courage and perseverance and loyalty? Is he picking up on the fact that Luke joins an army to overthrow the government? Is he picking up on the fact that there are only boys in the universe except for Aunt Beru, and of course this princess, who’s really cool, but who kind of waits around through most of the movie so that she can award the hero with a medal and a wink to thank him for saving the universe, which he does by the magic that he was born with?

Compare this to 1939 with “The Wizard of Oz.” How does Dorothy win her movie? By making friends with everybody and being a leader. That’s kind of the world I’d rather raise my kids in — Oz, right? — and not the world of dudes fighting, which is where we kind of have to be. Why is there so much Force — capital F, Force — in the movies we have for our kids, and so little yellow brick road?

Take 10 minutes to watch this great TEDx Talk by Colin Stokes. I’m not sure how it escaped me that all Pixar protagonists were male until Merida (Brave). Looking back on my childhood, I am able to recall watching The Wizard of Oz again and again. I don’t think the themes of leadership and friendship completely sunk in at that young age; however, the limited and choice amount of violence certainly made me fear conflict much more than any war story.

During last year’s E3 Expo, I couldn’t help but feel there was an increase in games featuring a female protagonist. Not resting on a hunch, I decided to investigate which new titles featured female protagonists versus the year prior. Looking IGN’s Games of E3 lsts for both 2012 and 2013, I found that the inclusion of female protagonists in games announced at E3 jumped from 2% in 2012 to 6% in 2013.

I’m looking forward to breaking down this year’s data and may be asking for a bit of help with a publicly shared database (via Numbers for iCloud). My early numbers show 18% male, 3% female, 10% multi, 4% n/a, and 65% unknown.

UPDATE: Updated numbers the night before E3 are as follows:

26% male, 4% female, 17% multi, 9% n/a, 44% unknown.

My data (based on IGN’s Games at E3 2014) is publicly available and I encourage readers to reach out on Twitter (@_stateofgaming) or email with any recommended changes. Some “unknown” data can be implied but, without proof, I’ll be waiting until official announcements have been made before I update the chart.

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Video games crash course

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

For people who don’t play video games, they can seem like a strange and vaguely threatening interloper into the household.

These noisy yet seemingly seductive things are on computers, on smartphones and tablets, and on expensive consoles that your kids will tell you everyone else has. And if you’re not buying them for your children, your children are probably playing them elsewhere.

Even if you never intend to play a game in your life, you should probably know about them – if only to understand what it is that drags other people in.

Stuart continues to churn out great work over at The Guardian. As stated, this piece is a must for parents and (honestly) everyone else. The piece highlights everything from free-to-play to the state of major developers, financials to education; plus some Hearthstone, Monument Valley, and Mario Kart 8 love. Good to the last sentence.

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Freakonomics Radio: ‘Think Like a Child’

Economist Steven Levitt, Freakonomics Radio:

Video games are fun. My son, Nick, who’s 11-years-old, could play video games for eight hours straight. Could Nick work at a job, say at McDonald’s, for eight hours? No. So it seems to me, what you take away from that is if you could make a job as fun as a video game, then you’d have all of the 11-year-old boys in the world, and probably the 15-year-old and 20-year-old and maybe even the 30-year-old boys lining up at your door trying to take that job.

This sentiment is very much echoed in game designer Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken. A worthwhile read on the fulfilling benefits of games and updating the today’s workplace / social constructs to be more game-like.

Levitt continues:

I think fun is so much more important than people realize and I’ve seen it in academics. When I interview young professors and try to decide if we should hire them, I’ve evolved over time to one basic rule: If I think they love economics and it’s fun for them, then I’m in favor of hiring them. No matter how talented they seem otherwise, if it seems like a job or effort or work, then I don’t want to hire them.

In March of 2013, I wrote about the idea of circling back to childhood hobbies when I am feeling lost. Many of those hobbies I am still fond of today. They act as fantastic through-lines that keep me on track when I feel I have strayed too far off course or have lost sight of my path. See also Finding Your Calling published on The Art of Manliness on the idea of pursuing vocation rather than a job or career.

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