As this month of guest blogging comes to an end culminating in me reaching the ripe old age of forty I have the phrase "Game Over man" from Aliens ringing in my ears. It did remind me of some things I have observed about the whole notion of a game being over from seeing my kids start to take in interest in my games consoles.
The most unusual point is that the 4 year old looks at games with no sentimental baggage, nor with any desire to win in the old fashioned sense. This manifests itself in some very quirky ways and has got me wondering where the limit is in educating a new game player about the social norms that apply just as we educate them with everyday social skills and rules.
To my daughter "Game Over" is viewed as a reward and the cause of much enjoyment.
My wife loves playing Zuma on the 360. Zuma is a 'Tetris' style puzzle game involving a forever growing chain of coloured marbles. You fire new marbles into the spiralling chain and remove groups of three or more of the same colour. When she was pregnant with predlet 2.0 it became one of those things that she did all the time to relax.
Now the four year old wanted to have a go with "mummy's game", but the mechanics and speed required would have appeared at first sight to be unrewarding for her. Instead though she started firing marbles in any direction at top speed until the chain filled up and all the marbles swirl down a pixelated plug hole with a suitable musical fanfare. She had decided that that was the aim of the game, to do that as quickly as possible and clear the level. For us spectating it was actually very annoying. You get used to the rules and the game and watching someone just ignore that and turn it on its head, but still get a kick out of it, is like a phone ringing out unanswered. You can learn to let go of that irritation and just relax, it is only a game after all. With a single player game like that I am guessing we can assume that its all right, you can do what you want with it? Use it like any toy, break the rules, use imagination. What happens when sharing the game or toy with others?
Kids get taught to share and play nicely, learning to blend with people and not upset them. So in a joint game of something that requires the rules to be followed in order for the game to continue where should the line be drawn? Should any line be drawn?
In a park on a slide if a child blocks the slide as that is the game they want to play they are breaking the rules, or social norms of the slide. They will be told by a responsible adult to play nicely and move. How and when do we get to help our kids learn to play nicely with others online or in multiplayer games?
I dont think any of this is a problem, but it is interesting to consider that many people, who have never been gamers, may not regard game etiquette as anything worth considering.
Of course in all this my daughter threw me a curve ball, well actually a golf ball. She had a go on Wii golf and without any explanation swung the golf club and played the first hole on par. As the game had blended with a physical game that she had seen, the mechanics and rules took over. So it may be just the abstact games that we have no existing mental model for that are more fun to subvert?
Finally she wanted to play the Skate demo I had on the 360. She asked how it worked, but really was not interested in the rules. She grabbed the joypad and started moving and pressing things. She took the spirit of skateboarding and exploration and just got on with it. Just skating across the park, swooshing around bowls was reward enough as she had been told she was too young for a real skateboard. So just as I get to drive fast cars, fly planes, shoot things that I cannot do in real life she was now part of that escapism too.
In all of this it was clear that she was generating her own content. Whether to keep for herself or to share with others (in this case "look at this dad"). For all the continued discussion about the bad side of videogames this was someone able to just enjoy the gaming experience gain some new skills, live out a dream and just have some fun.
Whilst metaverses based on game technology get dead serious when they are your job, games can still be games. There are there to be enjoyed.
So to conclude. I dont think I need to force the rules of the game on my kids. Making them aware of them, making sure they dont hurt or offend others is important, but they are just they to be enjoyed at whatever depth or in whatever context they want to. That sounds like a good plan right?