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Why kids love video games & what parents can do about it

Listen. Ask our kids about their in-game experiences, and then listen a lot. It may sound simple and we’ve heard it before, but listening can have powerful effects. This video interview for Kids and Media UK about kids and videogames with University of Bournemouth professor Stephen Heppell, who for more than 30 years has been helping communities and governments in many countries design and redesign school, explains why.

But before Heppell gets to that, see what he tells the interviewer about why kids love videogames so much (I’ve transcribed most of the interview for you so that it’s captured in and searchable as text):

Why they love those games

The interview starts with a lament about how “most of what children do is criticized in the media – demonized sometimes” – and how quick we are to worry that they’ll get addicted to videogames. “I never heard anyone worried about children becoming addicted to books,” Heppell said. So here’s why kids love these games so much:

“Children love immersion, they love to really get their heads into things and stay with them for a long time – stories, games, relationships. They love to be immersed in things, and that’s a really important part of what games brings to all this.”

So where do we come in? “For parents, it’s hugely important that their children can talk about what they’re doing. Too often, I think, the children are playing a game and the parents are somewhere else and have no idea of the complexity of what’s going on there, and I think parents should make a point of talking with their children about what’s happening – [ask] ‘How did you solve that problem? What did you do? What were you expecting?…’

Learning includes reflecting, describing

“Because [our] children are a tight little cycle of iteration. They can look at the screen and they can see something coming toward them, and they think, ‘Gosh, my hypothesis is, the things always move from this side across the screen, so if I hide behind this wall….’ [Then something happens that proves the hypothesis wrong, and] I have to think of a new strategy….’

He’s talking about how experiential learning happens. You have to have the experience, of course, but the other necessary piece is reflection, or articulation – being able to articulate what happened. “In that cycle of observe, question, hypothesize, test,” Heppell says, “they’re problem-solving a lot in games. It’s important for parents to ask them about the problem-solving, because being in that observe-question-hypothesize-test cycle isn’t enough; you need to be able to articulate as well.”

Why is this important?

“Solving problems is important – coping with surprises is important, talking about how you did it is fundamental. So you have to have those [reflection and articulation]. That’s a key role for parents in all this. Parents will never be any good at skateboarding, but there are things you can say about road safety. Teachers will never be any good at skateboarding, but they can talk about [the] physics [of skateboard tricks]. Parents will never be as good as their children at videogames, but they have a key role in all of this, and it’s that role of asking and listening.” But there’s one important caveat, I think: We don’t talk with them *all* the time – not so much that they have no time to play and be immersed in that “cycle of iteration.”

Not just parents, of course, but anybody who cares for and about kids, because those who care are the ones most likely to listen. “Families and parents and grandparents are a key part of learning,” Heppell says, “one of those untapped resources that are going to be so important to us over the next few years.”

Related links: Working from the inside out

  • I’m seeing a trend and a theme as I listen to Heppell. A year ago I wrote about how we figure out children’s online safety from the inside out (the kid out), and now I’m hearing Heppell say that education reform is going to happen that way – from the inside out, from small to big….
  • In this keynote at an education conference in southern Indiana, EVSC eLearning Revolution, Heppell talks about his school design and redesign projects in small towns and communities in China, Norway, Singapore, Denmark, the UK, etc. Successful schools are “all about communities, memberships, collegiality and mutuality. They’re all about small groups of people getting together to transform learning from the bottom up. Whatever happens at the national level almost doesn’t matter, apart from the resourcing, because the innovation that’s driving all this forward is down at the school level, down at the district level, the community level, indeed will be at the family level.”
  • But we can’t forget to be playful: See an earlier post of mine about the protective as well as rewarding powers of play, featuring psychiatrist Stuart Brown.

Readers, this is Part 2 of a two-part series on families and video gaming. Here’s Part 1: “Powerful play: A mom & son in World of Warcraft.”

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Pam #

    I love your article – my son is 14 i am 54 and we play together. I couldn’t believe how complex this world was – and initially used it as an excuse for him to up his school performance – but I feel lucky to have been able to join him and to still be a parent through it all. One of the big things – it has taught me respect – there is no age stratification, there are life lessons in almost every aspect of the game – socialising, planning, maths, seeking out information, strategy, manners and mutual respect – its really endless – I would say that “what parents can do about it” is to join them – even if its just a bit – get an understanding of what they are spending all these hours doing! My relationship with my son (and daughter for that matter) has become exactly that – > respectful and more real!

    September 17, 2013

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