Gaming, gaming, gaming, and a bit more gaming

Our 7 year old is a LEGO fanatic. He is also a Minecraft addict. The two in my mind are intrinsically linked because although I’ve not really played Minecraft myself, as far as I can see it’s sort of a LEGO City building kit on computer/tablets/console. Some of the worlds he’s built are astonishingly complex and go on forever and ever, or at least it seems that way when I’m having a guided tour of them at any rate. Not that these worlds are very detailed and well thought our mind you. I think the fiver I spent on Minecraft Pocket Edition on Android was possibly the best five pounds I’ve ever spent in terms of value for money (although the money I spent on Football Manager 2013, also on Android, gives it a close run for it’s money as I head into the 2030 season with a team almost entirely made up of players called Costa).

Over the last year or so as he’s got a bit older and developed the hand to eye coordination for video gaming, he’s developed a proper interest in games. Fortunately the world of gaming is quite different to when I was little. When I was his age a chap called Sir Clive Sinclair decided it would be a jolly good idea to unleash the ZX Spectrum on the world. The machine had a membrane keyboard that felt like the cold dead skin of a corpse and had a meagre 16k of memory that could be filled by loading stuff up from a tape cassette. To put this into perspective, a MS Word file with 500 words of unformatted text is about the same size as a Spectrum game. To get round this relatively minuscule amount of storage, Spectrum games were usually short but rock hard. Jumps had to be pixel perfect or you’d die. Baddies had to be avoided or you’d die. Sometimes you’d just die because the game was unfair. This made the 7 year old me quite sad at times. Today though with some games running to 50GB (or roughly 3.3m times larger than a Spectrum game), games can afford to be easy but long. If they’re too hard, they’ll alienate their audience after all. With a lot of the games the boy plays, he gets bored of the game before he gets stuck on it and even if he gets stuck, I’m usually on hand to help anyway.

The vast majority of the games he likes to play are Nintendo based, not because their consoles (Wii U and 3DS/2DS) have the monopoly when it comes to family friendly games- we have Skylanders, LEGO Harry Potter and a load of others on the Xbox 360 for example- but with the big chunky gamepad and kid friendly home screen, the Wii U and it’s games definitely have a place in the heart of the boy.

A lot of people look to limit “screen time” as though it’s all the same; TV, tablet, consoles, and so on. I think on it a little differently because I see gaming as an active experience that builds such skills as coordination, problem solving, patience and concentration. At it’s best some TV can cover a few of those attributes but all to often it’s simply switched on as something to veg out in front of and isn’t very positive to my mind.

This Christmas is the first Christmas where any of the kids have asked for a video game on their Christmas list. The boy has asked for Super Smash Bros and Luigi’s Mansion 2 on the 3DS. Super Smash Bros is a 12 certificate for reasons I’m not entirely sure about- from playing it fairly extensively at a couple of Nintendo events it appears to be a comic book beat ’em up with about as much root in the real world as an episode of Power Rangers. I shall have to ponder the suitability on that but Luigi’s Mansion 2 looks and plays brilliantly…

I have a sneaking suspicion that Fifi will be following in the footsteps of her older brother and there is no doubt in my mind that Ned will want to be a serious gamer sooner rather than later too. I fear for poor old wifey’s sanity when they’re all at it, bickering over who gets to play what when…