My two-year-old son is all about tapping things. My kid tap-tap-taps at everything. He taps at my Nexus 7. He taps at my iPhone. He taps at my Android. He taps my wife’s laptop screen. He openly wonders why the photograph she’s editing doesn’t transform into a video in response. My son wanders up to the television and slaps the screen. He gets so confused when nothing happens.
My son does what all two-year-olds seem to be doing these days: he expects technology to bend to his will. When it doesn’t respond to his touch, he gets confused.
Aren’t my fingers magical? Does technology not dance at the request of my sticky, nutella coated digits?
The ease with which my toddler has allowed technology into his little world is spectacular to me. This is not a situation unique to my son, I am aware of that.
All my nieces and nephews, children of friends, weird stinky kids I have no relation to -- all are going through the precise same experience. Children, above all, learn by example. So when they see their parents tap-tap-tapping at our phones and tablets they try and do the same thing. The only difference is this: their bourgeoning little brains have to potential to adapt rapidly. Ours don’t.
I wonder: why aren’t we taking more advantage of that?
Last week I flew from Sydney to Melbourne with my family for a wedding. I was in charge of entertainment. As soon as we strapped in I handed my son a tablet. That’ll work, I thought. I quickly set up his favourite movie (How To Train Your Dragon) but he got bored quickly. He began tapping the screen. He magically found his way from the movie to a collection of children’s games my wife had downloaded.
These games. They are terrible. They are objectively terrible.
They are really terrible. They are cheaply produced. They are churned out. They are loaded with micro-transaction, free-to-play bullshit. They have little-to-no educational value. On a fundamental level they are dreadful in just about every possible way, dependent as they are upon a child’s ability to find magic in even the most banal interactive experiences.
It got me wondering: why are we not making better video games for our children?
Why are we not providing their malleable little brains with something that takes advantage of their curiosity, of their unique ability to master technology so rapidly? Surely there is a market. Of course there is a market. Every single parent is on the hunt for that oasis in the desert: those elusive five minutes of peace. Every parent I know has an iPhone loaded with utterly garbage games for children. Wouldn’t it be nice if, you know? Those games actually had any sort of value whatsoever?
As a species we’ve generally been good at applying new types of technology to help teach our children. Television is the perfect example: Sesame Street was designed and executed using fairly cutting edge educational techniques at the time and that show raised an entire generation of kids. Kids TV is generally great. Yesterday I learned that Otters were a keystone species and protected certain types of algae from sea urchins from the bloody Octonauts. So did my son.
Or maybe it went in one ear and out the other. Maybe it would have been easier for a video game to teach him that? But a video game didn’t teach him that because -- speaking frankly -- video games aren’t teaching my son jack shit.
Why is that? Is it something to do with the way we consume media? Or, crucially, is it a problem with how the eco-system of smartphones and tablets operate? Is it an issue with quality control?
I suspect all of these factors come into play, but the manner in which both Android and iPhone marketplaces operate is not helping. Both are flooded with garbage on the daily and it’s difficult to separate the valuable from the utterly banal.
Parents, including myself, also have to take more responsibility. We have to be discerning consumers. We have to be demanding better video games for our children and that’s partly what this article is about. The temptation here is to assume that children will play any old shit. Anything for a good goddamn minute of peace and quiet, will-you-bloody-well-just-sit-still-and-tap-tap-tap-that-screen-while-Daddy-has-a-rest?
I know that feeling. I’ve been there. Many times. But maybe we should be thinking twice?
Maybe we should be more proactive about finding quality games for our children? Are they out there? I’m certain they are. Surely. But they sure as hell aren’t doing a good enough job of promoting themselves.
I’d like to see something definitive. I’d like to see a publisher with resources go all-in on this. I’d like to see someone attempt to make the Sesame Street of video games: well-researched, well designed, engaging, helpful. I’d like to support that.
Parents are different now. The men and women raising children in 2015 were brought up with games, we’ve played games all our lives. We don’t need to be taught the benefits of gaming, we’ve lived through those benefits. We know what a good game looks like. We know the value of good games.
We want to share those good games with our children. Where are they?