A couple of weeks ago the smalls and I were invited by PlayStation for a morning of games and a chat with Dr Jason Fox. Well the games sounded exciting, but who wants to spend a morning listening to a middle-age podgy doctor banging on about something?
Oh how wrong I was, dear reader.
We spent three blissful hours hopping across a range of PlayStation games - including an epic SingStar battle between Tiny and I (where she tried to sabotage me by covering my mouth) - where I leapt ahead to claim the title of SingStar champion with over 2 million points. WAY TO GO MAMA!
And the middle-age doctor bit? Oh man. SO wrong. SO WRONG! I really, really loved listening to the good doctor. He was smart. He was funny. He had sharp threads. And a really good beard.
As with many parents I am constantly worried about how much screen time my kids are getting, so I leapt at the opportunity to ask Dr Fox some questions.
What's an ideal amount of time for children to spend gaming?
Ah, what’s the ideal amount of time for children to be engaged in immersive, mentally stimulating puzzles and creative challenges (aka games)? A heap!
Of course, like all things, this needs to be balanced. On a school day, one needs to ensure that kids are getting the right mix of time for homework, outdoor activity and indoor play. I’d suggest that 60–90 minutes is good for a weeknight, and something best done before dinner.
The key is balance. Another important question to ask is: what’s the ideal amount of time for parents to invest playing games with their kids? Again, it’s a heap. This is probably one the biggest opportunities modern parents have today — playing with their kids. Much akin to building sandcastles together, or kicking the footy — playing games is a wonderful shared experience parents can tap into with their kids.
Steve Jobs was once interviewed and talked about how his children weren't allowed much screen time - because he knows how addictive it can be. What do you think about this?
I’d tend to agree with Steve — but it’s important to make the distinction between passive screen time (simply watching tv) and active screen time (playing games, engaged in challenges). While it’s important that we’re all allowed time to ‘switch off’, passive screen time doesn’t convey the same learning benefits as active screen time.
Making progress is highly motivating. We love seeing how our effort contributes to something, and it’s partly why screen activities are ‘addictive’ — we can see that our effort is making a difference. Rather than simply limit screen and game time, we also need to explore how we can bring the benefits of game design into the real world.
I've noticed my son goes red, and becomes pretty intense (read: obsessed) sometimes when gaming. What's that all about?
He’s probably entering a state of flow — that perfect balance between challenge and skill, where he is achieving something very complex or difficult, beyond his comfort zone. Here things become ‘autotelic’ — he is at one with the task, in the same way that champion golfers or surgeons get when doing their thing.
Coupled with this is the perception of ‘fiero’ — an Italian word meaning ‘pride’. According to Dr Jane McGonigal (multiple TED speaker, and author), this is an important outcome of games. After periods of intense flow in which we are triumphing over adversity or epic challenges, we can experience a fiero as a powerful neurochemical high.
In her book, Reality is Broken, McGonigal also writes that “games not only gratify intrinsic needs for happiness, but also ‘do it safely, cheaply, and reliably’”.
Our family really loves spending a couple of hours on Sundays playing Little Big Planet together. Is this a good thing?
Yes definitely! You’ve got a real shared experience in which you are creatively and collaboratively engaged in the resolution of meaningful, story-driven challenges. It’s hard to think of anything better. The fact that Little Big Planet 3 allows up to 4 players to play together means that the whole family can be involved in this shared experience. And, you can create new levels too, opening up opportunities for you and your kids to create challenges for each other too (imagine: special birthday challenges). This gets them into ‘user experience design’ — an important new skill and industry in the modern world.
And do you have any other similar games you could recommend for us to play as a family?