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Aug 29, 2007



My son started playing "Star Wars Battleground" on the XBox when he was about 5. Could have been 4. I forget. But no older than 5. He saw me playing and already loved Star Wars, so I let him mess with the controller.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it's a 3-rd person shooter, where you run around various Star Wars' landscapes, jumping, shooting, flying, driving vehicles, etc. When you die, you just re-rez at a nearby victory point, and keep going. The basic movement controls are incredibly easy, and you don't have to understand "the game" to have fun running a character around and exploring the landscape.

I got to watch him grok more and more of the game over the next year. At first, he needed me to handle the menus for him and restart a level after the other side (inevitably, as he wasn't really "playing") won. He would experiment with different buttons, ask me a question now and then, and start doing more stuff on a long, slow learning curve. For example, when he found out he could drive vehicles, he spent at least a month doing nothing but playing every level and trying out every vehicle. When he discovered the space episodes... another two months just on that.

Now, 2+ years later, he kicks my ass. He plays as if he grew up inside the game... which, in a way, he did. He rarely loses to the computer player, and can do some maneuvers that leave me shaking my head in wonder. The kid's... got... game.

BUT... he still doesn't care at all about playing any of the campaigns or strategic maps. For him, the highest level of "Game Over" is the word "Victory!" or "Defeat!" at the end of a stand-alone level.

Some new games, he likes to play all the way through (Lego Star Wars, Shrek the Third). Some he just wants to play until he gets bored (Paper Mario World). The rhyme/reason for how he plays are... well... much like mine.


Totally agree with the premise that kids don't care about "winning" ... when my 8 year old plays a linear experience (like SSX or NFSU) he cares about winning (ok - probably just finishing) ... but when he plays Twilight Princess - he can spend hours just running around the world - occasionally stumbling across a challenge that advances a quest/plot-point - but as often as not, he regrets that advancement - as it means he can't go back to an area he was just enjoying. One of the best examples was playing through the point where we turned back into Link and my son expressed regret that he couldn't run around as a wolf anymore ... I get the sense that his entertainment is much more bound up in the alternate reality aspect of experiencing something different rather than trying to "finish" something.


With current technology kids would have a technical barrier to understanding that they would be dealing with actual people in a virtual world. A kid can work a joystick but probably can't type messages. What is the age when kids generally stop doing parallel play and start playing together? What sort of technology would you need to let kids interact with each other in a virtual world at that age? Voice communication, probably. Facial recognition might help. Non-button controlers too. More realistic environments and human looking characters would help kids understand that other people are playing the game too.


My 4 year old neice enjoys a bit of Star Wars Lego, even though she has very little idea of what Star Wars is. She plays it not to inhabit that world so much as to have a foot in it and the other with her Dad and Uncle. When she plays she's at the point between the real and the imaginary worlds.


I think as kids get older their enjoyment of games actually flips on it's head. As you state, young children can enjoy games without winning. I think once they reach a certain age, they MUST win to enjoy the game.

I play a lot of Mario Stikers Charged and it seems players will do anything to win, including the same tactic/goal over and over again.


I think we should all remember that the games have been designed and created by adults for adults OR kids, so both kids and adults play an adult creation. Sounds heavy but it's great to see that kids can take out what they want to and not what the 'adult' world says they should. I like the emersive environments of games like Unreal Tournament and will happily run around for ages just admiring the view. With the instant action death-match the object is to get to X kills first but for me that's not an issue, I like to run around and blast the bots/players as each confrontation is a new competition, each has it's own defined clash of weapons, intelligence, moves, etc so it never gets stale or boring. Freedom and interaction are far more important than a mission. After all that's life, it just keeps going until the final 'game over'. Only you don't get to regenerate in France or Germany for another go...


The world is populated by 4 year olds, 14 yeaar olds, 64 year olds and 84 year olds and will be until the end. So different groups always have and always will have a different perspective by age, sex, beleif, experience or tolerance on any topic or game. What is the point of observing the view point of 4 year olds or any other group on any topic in isolation? The issue is has mankind changed or is mankind changing. The answer is yes but not because of 4 year olds it's no doubt because of every year olds.Any change in competiteveness is about all groups.
Try getting my eight year old to acccept defeat he acknowledges the loss as inexperience aplauds the winner with generosity and then learning from his opponent wants a re-match as soon as possible so with his new found knowledge he can wim.


My daughters currently 3, and as far back as being 1 she's had an interest in what Daddy's doing on his consoles.

I've always stuck to the "if theres any violence its a no no" although there are some exceptions, such as Final Fantasy or Zelda, so as not to let her see such things happening. For the most part, she's happy with grabbing a spare controller, plugging it in and "playing" along with me, even if the games single player, she things she's doing it and finds it fun. It's a great for us to bond. Other times, specifically with Guitar Hero, she'll grab my Bongo's from Donkey Konga and bash along to the music while I play Guitar. For this reason alone I'm really looking forward to getting ahold of Rock Star.


Interesting post. My children do something that may be related when it comes to console games: they are quite happy to let the other one do a particular section for them in "their" game, and it doesn't bother them one jot. My eldest daughter is, quite frankly, better at Super Mario World on the Wii than I am: she's probably put more hours in. So when I spend ages trying to navigate a particularly difficult set of jumps, only to fall flat on my face again, she just says "oh, let me do it for you Daddy". To her (and my other daughter) it's perfectly natural. To me, it's like copying someone's homework: if I let her do that section, then I won't have done it myself, so what's the point? Different viewpoints; hers isn't necessarily wrong, but then neither's mine.


My kids are now older than 4. Once the eldest wanted to play games, his little brother was about 3 or 4 and could not play very well and got frustrated by it. We bought a smaller controller and he managed a little better. He's now 10 and plays Combat games better than his Dad.... Kids like to press buttons go with that thats what its all about. Tell them not to and they want to more!


I work with adults with learning disabilities, and I can relate to this article, albeit with card games instead of computer games.

One man, when playing "snap", plays out of turn, and celebrates when he runs out of cards, thinking he has won. Another will feel sorry for anyone whose cards are running out, and will share his cards with them. Thankfully, the first guy seems grateful to receive more cards, even though he's trying to get rid of them...

The best plan is to forget the rules, and just make sure everyone has fun!


In the end of the day isn't a game supposed to be just that? Fun?

And "fun" for me or for you, or to my kids or to their kids is going to be something different most of the times. Whether we try to influence it or not as they grow up.

I still recall when (for me at least) it was fun to play over and over and over the same "level" with that yellow 3/quarters of a circle that we called pacman. No saves; no cutscenes; no real reason for it to be in those levels and play hunter hunted with the ghosts.

And frankly, with the load of work that I lately see, with the minute free recreational time that family, job and life leaves to me, I find myself slowly returning to small online flash games like pac-man...I find myself not really interested to go through all the cutscenes and marvel at how my personae got to where it is at the start of the game...

Perhaps new games are overcomplicated.Perhaps my mind is regressing to a 4 year old's. Or perhaps exploring all the ways of playing and winning and loosing on a simple one-dimensional game was always more "fun" to my generation than an overglorified movie with minor interactive bits in it...


This reminds me so much of my next door neighbour's little girl, who, aged 4, could quite happily spend an hour or more "playing Tomb Raider" which involved making Lara Croft jump into a big pool of water, swim around a bit and then jump out again. Endless fun.


I'm also intrigued by the differences between cultures in this regard - I recently went to Korea, where 'games for girls' appeared to consist of massively multiplayer combat role-playing games (mostly with weapons) that are essentially toned down versions of what the teenagers and adults play (honestly, I'm not making this up). But because this is what girls are growing up playing, that's what they seem to want, and it's the norm.


Thank you all for your comments, I was off the grid for a few days.
It is great to see that we all see these things happening. I am intrigued by when certain styles and attitudes change and which types of game causes them to change.
It is also interesting as to when competition become important. In a world where competition seems not to be encouraged in children yet they are still finding ways to express the urge to win and compete, and when that becomes the fun part.
Of course there is no clear answer to this, but if it helps to learn that things can be fun regardless of the rules, and we can create our own user generated content just from using whats there that seems a good thought to stick with :-)

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