Computer games

The school holidays are nearly over here. Chatterboy goes back to school next Wednesday, and Hungry Boy has his first day at big school next Thursday. So they will both have had five weeks of pretty relaxed holidays – going to the beach, and museums, visiting friends and other bits and pieces, but a lot of time hanging around at home.

We’ve let them play computer games a lot. Specifically one game, Lego Star Wars. Some days, if it was raining, they probably played for four hours. If you’d told me three or four years ago that this might happen, I would have been horrified. But watching them play together, it’s been a wonderful learning experience for both of them.

It’s a two player game, requiring cooperation. So they each play one of the characters, and have to cooperate to make it work. For example, to kill one of the monsters, they have to team up to work out how to drop a big gate on top of the monster. When they are trying to defeat some of the tougher characters they have to work out how to have one of them hit from the front, and one from behind.

They have to work out puzzles. To get to some of the special features, they have to work out things like building up a ramp so that their characters can get up to a higher place. They have to work out which of the various characters they have at their disposal they need at any given time – a robot that can open doors, or a Jedi fighter that can use the force, or something that can crawl into small spaces.

They have to learn persistence, as their characters die numerous times while they are trying to work out the puzzle of how to get to the next level. Their fine motor skills get a workout as they try and use the keyboard to make their characters move in exactly the right way to jump over moving lava flows.

They learn negotiation skills for when they both want to explore something in different directions – learning that just shouting at each other is unlikely to improve the situation.

And while we have had to do a bit of conflict resolution for them, most of the time I’ve been very impressed that the pull of the game has made them figure out how to work it out for themselves.

While I think “educational” computer games had a lot to do with teaching Chatterboy to read, this computer game has taught both boys some less “educational” but possibly more valuable life lessons.

Many parents are nervous about too much computer time. But in our household, Mr Penguin and I both spend a fair bit of our leisure time in front of a computer screen. And we have both earned a living based in part on our skills at navigating the world with the aid of a computer. So I think this has been a summer holiday very well spent.

  5 comments for “Computer games

  1. January 25, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Dudelet’s nightmarishly skilled at Flash computer games (he navigates his own way around the BBC’s Cbeebies site with perfect aplomb) and Warioland on an old Gameboy Advance. He’s only allowed 15 minutes a day on Gamecube, however, until he can demonstrate that he can stop playing and help put it away as required. I do endorse computer games as educational tools – especially the cooperative or two player games. We particularly liked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because all three of us can play with the same cooperative requirements – you have to watch each others back, pick up big trees and solve simply block moving problems together and so on. I love computer games, supermum and I both have new media backgrounds with laptops lying around the house so computers are probably as much (if not more) a part of his everyday environment than TV. So long as he keeps on voluntarily abandoning screen-based activities to paint or make something or jump on my back, I’m comfortable with that.

  2. January 26, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    We’ve slowly been moving to more computer time and less tv time with our kids, and it’s working out swimmingly. Except for the part that means less computer time for me!

  3. January 27, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Lego Star Wars 1 and 2 for Mac are my son’s obsession. I have a one-hour-a-day screen time limit (which is flexible, but it’s always useful to have a rule, especially for a child who has no idea of time so he can’t catch me out).
    Although, obviously, I like computers myself, I’m also wary about their impact on children. A lot of time on a computer makes my son tired and mentally fractious in a way that I don’t see from other tiring activities. And as they get older, there’s a lot of peer pressure to play online or Playstation games in every social situation (he’d rarely if ever have a playdate which doesn’t involve these games now). It’s really shaping how boys *are* with each other – almost taking the place of sports. Most of my son’s friends now have handheld gamers and Playstations at home and other parents allow games I don’t like (eg James Bond for 5-8 year olds!) So working out how to deal with all that can be challenging.

  4. January 27, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    PS: A boy is asking if I will vacate the computer so he can play an online cricket game!

  5. January 31, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Interesting point about the peer pressure, suzoz. I’ve been mostly happy about it so far, as computer games are a much more natural talking point for Chatterboy than the latest Rugby League game, so it’s nice to have a few fellow travellers. But they’re all really a bit too young to judge each other about who has and hasn’t got the latest thing – I expect it will come, fairly soon in ways that we aren’t happy about.

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