Secrets to an Amazing Role-Playing Game

Role-playing games are a very specialist type of game that really need a far greater attention to detail than other less immersive genres. As the computerized version of the genre took off there were a lot of money hungry companies who decided to storm into the genre without really trying to understand what the vital elements of a role-playing game are. In some cases, these companies have actually had the audacity to buy out smaller companies who did know the genre and they destroyed long-held legacies of great traditional games.

Considering that this may have an impact on the future of computerized role-playing games I have felt it to be of importance to educate these gaming giants in an effort to help them understand the only thing that matters to them. In order to sell role-playing games you need an audience willing to buy the product and if a company consistently puts out dodgy shooters in the guise of apparent role-playing games they’ll only destroy their reputation and go bankrupt. I know that the word bankrupt is a word that these money hungry companies recognises and so I emphasise one point, try to sell dodgy shooters to role-playing fans and you will go bankrupt!

Personally, I have been a role-playing gamer for about thirty years and I fell in love with only two systems that I probably can’t name because of article writing guidelines. What I can say is that very few game producing companies have come even close to the pen and paper versions of the best role-playing games on the market, you know, the ones that people actually enjoy playing. I will say that I rejoiced when role-playing games became computerized as it meant I could do my role-playing without the need to hunt for people with similar tastes and even though some games have risen to become great role-playing games, they are sadly few and far between. On that note, of the styles of role-playing games that include pen and paper, computerized games and online games, there is only one type that can meet the fully immersive needs of a role-player and I’ll reveal why later.

Okay, what are the elements of a great role-playing game then? I’ll give you one at a time but the very most important piece of advice to keep in mind during this whole discussion is immersion. To be a truly great role-playing game, it has to grab the players attention and not deliver diversions that allow the player to slip back into the reality of the real world. The player must be kept in the fictional world if they are to feel that they have experienced a great role-playing game.

One of the most vital elements of immersion is a storyline; a really believable and yet gripping storyline. A role player doesn’t want to load up the newest game and find to their dismay that storyline consists of the flimsy idea that they have to kill heaps of things to get enough experience to kill the apparent bad guy. Who wants to play a game where the bad guy is designated the bad guy without good reason? Have you played a game where you are part of one group of people and you’ve been chosen to defeat the other group of people but there’s no actual evidence that shows why the other group is bad? The worst of these are the recent thug games where one criminal organisation wants to defeat another criminal organisation and you’re the hitman. Who is really that stupid to fall for such a terrible storyline? It’s certainly not for intelligent role-players.

A good storyline can’t be a shallow excuse for a war and it has to be something you’d want to be a part of. The storyline also has to be included in the gameplay itself and delivered in a way that doesn’t interrupt the reality of the gameplay either. There’s nothing worse than a big cut-scene that drops into the middle of the game and makes you sit idle for more than a minute or two. For role-play gamers, the immersion of the game comes from being the character, not from watching the cut-scenes as if you were watching television. What’s next… advertisements?

Another part of a great game play experience is being aware that you have been a part of the fictional world since you were born. This is conveyed by knowing where things are in the world and knowing who the current leaders are, along with knowing current events. This can be done cleverly by feeding snippets of information in a natural manner during conversations with non-player characters. Some extremely vital information can be revealed in otherwise meaningless banter, just like in the world you’re immersed in right now.

One thing that will jolt a role player out of a game is a sudden unwanted conversation with a hastily introduced character who explains where the next local town is and that you have to be careful because there’s a war on or some such thing. This is only done in games where the maps are updated as you discover places of interest. Making a major city that lies not ten miles from your current position something that you have to discover is ridiculous at best and only suits scenarios where you’ve been teleported into a new reality or you’ve lost your memory although the latter should be used sparingly as there are already too many games out there that rely on the character having amnesia. Discovery can be implemented in far more subtle ways by having secret areas within already well-known places and it is this that gives a role-player a sense of discovery.

Another immersion problem is the introduction of a love interest in a game without any participation on your part. You’re playing away, minding your own business and then all of a sudden, one of the infatuated characters that you never knew existed, has an impact on gameplay because of a supposed vital role they play in the group you’re a part of. They should, at the least, allow a bit of flirting in the conversation paths before a love interest is thrust into the mix. For me, someone suddenly having that kind of interest is an immersion breaker because there was nothing at all that prompted a relationship. If there is a love interest possibility in the game, then it needs to be introduced in a believable way and shouldn’t be out of the characters control.

There was one game in which this happened and the involvement of two love interests was the excuse for one of the non-player characters to do worse at being a support while the other became a great support. Sure, the idea was novel but it was also very childish because it assumed that these two love interests were so enamoured with the player that neither could do without him. It was worse than watching Baywatch or Desperate Housewives.

I’m only going to add one more element to the mix because I just wouldn’t reach a conclusion if I allowed myself to point out every requirement of the best role-playing games. As I stated before, the important factor is immersion. A real deal breaker for me is the inability to develop the type of character I want. I’ve encountered this more often than not in games where you have no choice over the skills that you character can develop. Of course, this is the worst scenario and there are many games that allow limited development but there are only a handful of games that allow a real sense of development.

A truly great role-playing game has to allow players to develop in any direction and compensate for this flexibility by incorporating multiple paths through the game. There’s no point in creating a computerized role-playing game if the character does the same thing in every single play through of the game. The most annoying of these issues is a game where you can have a spell wielding character but they develop the exact same spells at exactly the same point in every run of the game. It’s a little more forgivable for warrior types but even in this case there are many games which allow for dozens of different fighting styles.

Now, if I were to continue with this discussion I’d add other topics like the renaming of attributes with no good cause, allowing for more than one quest to be given at a time, real world purchase requirements during the game and other ridiculous practices.

I did promise to show which game type was the best for role-playing games though so, here it is. Non-online computerized games are the only games that allow for full immersion and I’ll explain why.

Unlike table-top games, you aren’t interrupted by the requirement to physically reach out and move pieces which takes you out of the role of the piece itself. Compared to pen and paper games, you aren’t required to look up tables or enter long boring discussions on how rules should be interpreted. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games don’t meet the requirements either and I know some of you will be surprised but when was the last time you were playing a computerized role-playing game and one of the other players had to leave because they had to go to work and they informed you it was a different time in their part of the world.

Computerized role-playing games are the only role-playing game type where the characters stay in the game, you don’t have to suddenly work out if something is allowable by the rules and the user interface stays consistent so that the immersion is most efficient.

In conclusion, the best role-playing games are stand-alone home computer based and don’t involve interaction with other real world people who will throw a spanner in the immersion works. The storyline must be solid and delivered in a natural manner, a deliverable assumption that your character already knows the fictional world, no instant love interests out of nowhere and the ability to develop your character in any direction seamlessly along with plot paths that allow for these developments.

I only hope that the gaming companies pay attention to this and realise that they are making role-playing games for role-players and if they’re not in the market for role-players, then they should call their games by a different genre.

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Growing Up With Cards and Games

Summer and games go together for me.

When I was a child, my family had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. It lacked both electricity and plumbing which was fine with me; I liked the feeling of camping but still having a comfortable bed to sleep in at night. The only drawback was an outhouse that was half a block from the cottage and not a fun trip at night. My mother solved this by creating a “honey pot” that we all used at night and one of us emptied in the morning (although I suspect my mother ended up with the job most often).

In the evening, our light came from kerosene lamps and a large brick fireplace. After my father, mother, brother and I came in from evening fishing (or on a rainy day), we played card games in front of the fireplace; kerosene lamps hanging overhead to light the small table in the middle. We played gin rummy, 500 rummy and schmier, a game that I remember as being a little like bridge. (If anyone knows how to play smear, please contact me because I need a tutorial!) I especially loved gin rummy and won more than my share of games but I usually couldn’t beat my father. Looking back, I’m not certain which was better; the card games or the quiet evenings with family. However, I grew up treasuring both.

At some point, we added Monopoly to the list but I always had a love/hate relationship with that game. If you’re winning, it’s great. Your houses lined the board and the stack of money in front of you grew larger every time someone shook the dice and landed on your property. But if you missed purchasing the best properties, every shake of the dice put you further and further in debt – perhaps a little bit like real life! I couldn’t handle the slide into poverty and was usually very relieved when I lost all my money and was able to quit the game.

Of course, Scrabble was always a favorite but, as the youngest, I was a little handicapped by my vocabulary. At the time, I didn’t know about short words like Qi. Xu, Qua and Za that fit into small spaces and earned a lot of points. Today I play Scrabble every day online with friends and use these words regularly although I have to admit that I still have no idea what they mean.

In college, I was introduced to Bridge. I watched friends playing; listening to their bids and studying their plays. When I met Barry, my husband-to-be, I had only played a few times. After we were engaged, he and I were invited to dinner and a bridge game at one of his married friend’s houses. I was nervous and felt like a kid; these couples were four or five years older than me and actually lived in houses, rather than dormitories. By the end of the evening, I was feeling more confident and felt my bridge playing had been pretty good. As soon as we were in the car, Barry turned to me and said, “Never, never bid a three card suit!” He married me anyway and even taught me how to bid the right way.

For several years, we played party bridge with twelve friends who were, for the most part, at the same level as us. Each one of us rotated around three tables and different partners. However, there was one man in the group who took the game very seriously. Being his partner meant opening yourself to four hands of verbal abuse. I didn’t say anything at the time but this older and wiser version of myself would not have kept her mouth shut!

Once (and only once) I played duplicate bridge. We were living on an army base in Japan at the time and a friend asked me to substitute for her in a once-a-week duplicate bridge game while she stopped to have a baby. By this time, my bridge game had vastly improved and I immediately said yes. But I soon found out that this game had very little in common with party bridge. The room was deadly quiet, interrupted only with the sounds of quiet bidding at each table. The emphasis was on each hand and the score cards were kept meticulously. Also, the hands were carefully replaced for the next player.

After we had finished playing all the hands, everyone gathered to see where he or she had landed on the points list. I was second from last, with only a few more points than a ninety-year old woman who had dementia. The game was only two hours but it felt like eight. By the time I got home, I had a terrible headache. When Barry walked in the door, I was lying on the couch, an ice pack on my head and a glass of wine and bottle of aspirin on the table beside me.

When our children came along, we both spent hours playing children’s games such as Candy Land, Old Maid, Go Fish and Chutes and Ladders. Although those games disappeared as our children grew up, our game closet is now restocked with all of them, waiting for our granddaughter’s next visit. I’m finding it more fun playing the games this time around than I did when our children were young. I’m quite sure the reason for this is because we can enjoy playing with our grandchild without the anxieties that accompanied raising our own children. Grandchildren are simply fun!

With the advent of computers, we can also play a lot of games online. As I mentioned before, I play at least ten games of Scrabble with friends and family but these move slowly with only one move by each player in a day. In addition, I am addicted to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection which includes a daily challenge in five different solitaire games. You collect points which grow daily until (hopefully) you reach the gold bell by the end of the month when the scoring starts over. If you miss a few days, you get behind on your games. Catching up can be fun if you don’t mind a marathon day (or two) of computer games. And this is where the addiction starts!

Since we have lived in Florida, we have been introduced to two new games that we play with friends. The first is Rummikub, a board game that is a lot like 500 rummy. Barry and I play with three friends every couple of months and we usually lose. One friend has been playing this game for years with a group in her home town. They play for money, a penny a point and she would like us to do this also. I’d be willing if either Barry or I won once in a while but at the rate we’re going now, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The other game we play with friends in our neighborhood is Mexican Train, a dominoes game. The strategy is fun but the best part of this game is pushing the button in the middle of the plastic train which emits a loud, “Choo cho, choo cho.” Of course, to be allowed to push the button you have to first win the game and, unfortunately that doesn’t happen to me very often. So occasionally I cheat and push the button for fun.

As you might have guessed by now, I don’t seem to win very often. However, I’ve decided that, for me, winning is not the object of the game. Of course I do prefer winning to losing but since that isn’t in “the cards”, I focus on other things, such as strategy, taking tricks, combining the correct numbers and adding up all the points I’m stuck with that someone else gets! I also tell myself that playing games is supposed to be good for your mind. But the best part of playing games is spending time with good friends, eating delicious food and building lovely memories in this phase of my life.

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Truth About Online Games

One thing which never seems to die down will be the hype created by online games. Many might think that the fever of online games has died down but they couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, online games are most popular today in comparison to what they were a few decades ago. The undying appeal for the virtual world of gaming is at a constant up rise. Due to the advancements in technology, the graphics, quality of visuals and sounds, have drastically increased in every capacity, simply pulling more fans into its area of influence. The access to the internet has also increased the number of people who can access these games in the very first place. The realistic sense of the virtual world, which we refer to as the world of gaming, simply plunges every person into its orbit. This in turns them into obsessive fans to this illusionary, yet very surreal world which is under their control and power.

When coming down to online games, over the years, they have seemed to have gained unparalleled followers unlike any other. As mentioned before due to the increased access of the internet, the advanced technological graphics used simply make games very addictive. Due to the mere fact that these games are to be accessed online, time is rather saved from downloading these very games at the very start. Few games also allow a user to save their progress after a very short sign in process which can be logged in through social media websites as well such as Facebook, Google+, Yahoo etc. A recent study has also shown that almost one in every five users on the internet access gaming websites and this number is predicted to increase with the due passage of time as game developers are very keen on producing innovative time effective and fan-following online games which keeps a user busy for days. Even though a handful of people would go against the very essence of online games, there are not only multiple, but several benefits of online gaming which many are unaware of. Luckily for you, who stumbled upon this article, be aware of all the benefits which online games have to offer.

Enhance Memory

Online gaming provides a platform which is indeed very re-collective in terms of making a user plunge into the world of gaming. The biggest perk of online games is that the user has a variety of games to choose from which are away at a click of a second, at equal lapses. Everyone is aware of the fact that humans normally do not utilise 100% of their brain function. Games like puzzles, logic based games, trivia and problem solving games help brain function. Normally humans use one part of the brain but by playing these specific ones, the brain of the user does not only one part of the brain but almost all areas are active and functional. With new games added to the list every day, the user has countless options to choose from alongside new activities to indulge into in the online world of gaming.

Recovery & Health

There are many people out there who are suffering from all kinds of illnesses. Online tools used in games can be very helpful in this regard to help speed up recovery. Parents whose child is sick may find refuge in these games to understand how their child is suffering and can make them understand their child better. Most of the tools which are used in gaming help to increase sharpness and awareness amongst kids which is a great way to booth and improve the mental health of many children suffering from illnesses such as dyslexia. Not all games on the internet are for entertainment; rather most revolve around an educational background which is indeed a motivational area of comfort for children. Many non profit organisations formulate games in order to help aid those children and adults which are suffering for specific kinds of illnesses.

Social Interaction

Many people are shy when it comes to mingling along with others and finding comfort amongst their fellows. During this dilemma, many find solace through interacting with fellow players in the gaming world. This is something which has over the years taken a turn for the best in order to increase social interaction. There are communities formed within these games which indeed form a bond between all prayers and rather forms a community. The virtual world indeed is sometimes very promising when it comes to providing people a platform to voice out without their identity being given out. Such examples of games include Club Penguin which has become very popular. The game simply allows people to entire a world which is full of penguins and for them to interact with other players who too are penguins. These people are from places across the globe. Users also have the option to chat with fellow players and parents have the option to keep a close eye on their children as the site asks for parental consent before indulging in the game.

All in all, there are many more benefits which the virtual world of online games has to offer which not many people are aware of. Only a few are stated in this article but do try out this as an experience for yourself by trying out an online game and then sharing your experiences in terms of benefits.

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History of Video Games – The First Video Game Ever Made?

As an avid retro-gamer, for quite a long time I’ve been particularly interested in the history of video games. To be more specific, a subject that I am very passionate about is “Which was the first video game ever made?”… So, I started an exhaustive investigation on this subject (and making this article the first one in a series of articles that will cover in detail all video gaming history).

The question was: Which was the first video game ever made?

The answer: Well, as a lot of things in life, there is no easy answer to that question. It depends on your own definition of the term “video game”. For example: When you talk about “the first video game”, do you mean the first video game that was commercially-made, or the first console game, or maybe the first digitally programmed game? Because of this, I made a list of 4-5 video games that in one way or another were the beginners of the video gaming industry. You will notice that the first video games were not created with the idea of getting any profit from them (back in those decades there was no Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Sega, Atari, or any other video game company around). In fact, the sole idea of a “video game” or an electronic device which was only made for “playing games and having fun” was above the imagination of over 99% of the population back in those days. But thanks to this small group of geniuses who walked the first steps into the video gaming revolution, we are able to enjoy many hours of fun and entertainment today (keeping aside the creation of millions of jobs during the past 4 or 5 decades). Without further ado, here I present the “first video game nominees”:

1940s: Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device

This is considered (with official documentation) as the first electronic game device ever made. It was created by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. The game was assembled in the 1940s and submitted for an US Patent in January 1947. The patent was granted December 1948, which also makes it the first electronic game device to ever receive a patent (US Patent 2,455,992). As described in the patent, it was an analog circuit device with an array of knobs used to move a dot that appeared in the cathode ray tube display. This game was inspired by how missiles appeared in WWII radars, and the object of the game was simply controlling a “missile” in order to hit a target. In the 1940s it was extremely difficult (for not saying impossible) to show graphics in a Cathode Ray Tube display. Because of this, only the actual “missile” appeared on the display. The target and any other graphics were showed on screen overlays manually placed on the display screen. It’s been said by many that Atari’s famous video game “Missile Command” was created after this gaming device.

1951: NIMROD

NIMROD was the name of a digital computer device from the 50s decade. The creators of this computer were the engineers of an UK-based company under the name Ferranti, with the idea of displaying the device at the 1951 Festival of Britain (and later it was also showed in Berlin).

NIM is a two-player numerical game of strategy, which is believed to come originally from the ancient China. The rules of NIM are easy: There are a certain number of groups (or “heaps”), and each group contains a certain number of objects (a common starting array of NIM is 3 heaps containing 3, 4, and 5 objects respectively). Each player take turns removing objects from the heaps, but all removed objects must be from a single heap and at least one object is removed. The player to take the last object from the last heap loses, however there is a variation of the game where the player to take the last object of the last heap wins.

NIMROD used a lights panel as a display and was planned and made with the unique purpose of playing the game of NIM, which makes it the first digital computer device to be specifically created for playing a game (however the main idea was showing and illustrating how a digital computer works, rather than to entertain and have fun with it). Because it doesn’t have “raster video equipment” as a display (a TV set, monitor, etc.) it is not considered by many people as a real “video game” (an electronic game, yes… a video game, no…). But once again, it really depends on your point of view when you talk about a “video game”.

1952: OXO (“Noughts and Crosses”)

This was a digital version of “Tic-Tac-Toe”, created for an EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) computer. It was designed by Alexander S. Douglas from the University of Cambridge, and one more time it was not made for entertainment, it was part of his PhD Thesis on “Interactions between human and computer”.

The rules of the game are those of a regular Tic-Tac-Toe game, player against the computer (no 2-player option was available). The input method was a rotary dial (like the ones in old telephones). The output was showed in a 35×16-pixel cathode-ray tube display. This game was never very popular because the EDSAC computer was only available at the University of Cambridge, so there was no way to install it and play it anywhere else (until many years later when an EDSAC emulator was created available, and by that time many other excellent video games where available as well…).

1958: Tennis for Two

“Tennis for Two” was created by William Higinbotham, a physicist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. This game was made as a way of entertainment, so laboratory visitors had something funny to do during their wait on “visitors day” (finally!… a video game that was created “just for fun”…) . The game was pretty well designed for its era: the ball behavior was modified by several factors like gravity, wind velocity, position and angle of contact, etc.; you had to avoid the net as in real tennis, and many other things. The video game hardware included two “joysticks” (two controllers with a rotational knob and a push button each) connected to an analog console, and an oscilloscope as a display.

“Tennis for Two” is considered by many the first video game ever created. But once again, many others differ from that idea stating that “it was a computer game, not a video game” or “the output display was an oscilloscope, not a “raster” video display… so it does not qualify as a video game”. But well… you can’t please everyone…

It is also rumored that “Tennis for Two” was the inspiration for Atari’s mega hit “Pong”, but this rumor has always been strongly denied… for obvious reasons.

1961: Spacewar!

“Spacewar!” video game was created by Stephen Russell, with the help of J. Martin Graetz, Peter Samson, Alan Kotok, Wayne Witanen and Dan Edwards from MIT. By the 1960s, MIT was “the right choice” if you wanted to do computer research and development. So this half a dozen of innovative guys took advantage of a brand-new computer was ordered and expected to arrive campus very soon (a DEC PDP-1) and started thinking about what kind of hardware testing programs would be made. When they found out that a “Precision CRT Display” would be installed to the system, they instantly decided that “some sort of visual/interactive game” would be the demonstration software of choice for the PDP-1. And after some discussion, it was soon decided to be a space battle game or something similar. After this decision, all other ideas came out pretty quick: like rules of the game, designing concepts, programming ideas, and so forth.

So after about 200 man/hours of work, the first version of the game was at last ready to be tested. The game consisted of two spaceships (affectively named by players “pencil” and “wedge”) shooting missiles at each other with a star in the middle of the display (which “pulls” both spaceships because of its gravitational force). A set of control switches was used to control each spaceship (for rotation, speed, missiles, and “hyperspace”). Each spaceship have a limited amount of fuel and weapons, and the hyperspace option was like a “panic button”, in case there is no other way out (it could either “save you or break you”).

The computer game was an instant success between MIT students and programmers, and soon they started making their own changes to the game program (like real star charts for background, star/no star option, background disable option, angular momentum option, among others). The game code was ported to many other computer platforms (since the game required a video display, a hard to find option in 1960s systems, it was mostly ported to newer/cheaper DEC systems like the PDP-10 and PDP-11).

Spacewar! is not only considered by many as the first “real” video game (since this game does have a video display), but it also have been proved to be the true predecessor of the original arcade game, as well as being the inspiration of many other video games, consoles, and even video gaming companies (can you say “Atari”?…). But that’s another story, arcade games as well as console video games were written in a different page of the history of video games (so stay tuned for future articles on these subjects).

So here they are, the “First Video Game” nominees. Which one do you think is the first video game ever made?… If you ask me, I think all these games were revolutionary for its era, and should be credited as a whole as the beginners of the video gaming revolution. Instead of looking for which one was the first video game, what is really important is that they were created, period. As the creator of “Spacewar!”, Stephen Rusell, once said: “If I hadn’t done it, someone would have done something equally exciting or even better in the next six months. I just happened to get there first”.

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How to Pick Video Games Both Parents and Their Kids Will Love

To hear parents tell it, the perfect video game is educational, provides small life lessons, strengthens hand eye coordination, and keeps the kids entertained for roughly 30 minutes at a time. Listening to kids, however, it appears that educational qualities rank far below the needs for speed, action, rad moves, and great weapons. It is hard to believe that there are games which fulfill the requirements hoped for by both parents and kids.

Parents should always make the time to play the games alongside their kids; the only problem with using this approach to picking video games is the fact that the game is already in the house and the money spent. Opened games are rarely returnable and once they are in the house and their hot little hands, kids will not let go of games without a lot of arguing, complaining, and upset. Thus, making an informed decision prior to bringing the games home is a must!

So how does a parent go about picking out a video game for the children to play? Reading the back of the cover is unlikely to present a lot of information whereas the buzz on the Internet can be so forbiddingly filled with insider lingo that it is hard to discern if the game is appropriate, too violent, or perhaps even contains content that is objectionable.

At the same time, simply because a game is very popular and the evening news shows long lines of consumers waiting outside the stores for them to go on sale, does not mean that it offers the kind of game play the parent wants to invite into the home. Fortunately, there are five simple steps to picking video games both parents and their kids will love. These steps are not complicated, require a minimum of effort, and are rather reliable.

1. Check the ESRB Rating

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) developed a rating system that ranks game content according to age appropriateness. The ratings are “EC,” “E,” “E 10+,” “T,” “M,” “AO,” and “RP.”

Games designated with an “EC” are educational and fun for preschoolers and young grade-schoolers. An “E” notes that the games are appropriate for all players, and while preschoolers might have more of a learning curve to get the game-play right, there is no objectionable content. Look out for games rated with an “E 10+” since these games are reserved for kids older than 10. Some mild language is usually incorporated into the game.

A game rated “T” is reserved for teens, and parents should know that violence, sexual innuendo, partial nudity, and also curse words are par for the course. “M” for mature indicates games for those over the age of 17 and the blood, guts, gore, and sex are legendary in these games. Upping the ante are games marked “AO” or adults only, as they are “M” squared. An “RP” rating simply means that a rating is pending, and parents should hold off on buying the game until the rating has been apportioned.

2. Read the ESRB Content Descriptors

Since preschoolers and grade-schoolers cannot simply be pigeonholed into age brackets, but should be much further differentiated by their maturity levels, parents will be wise to read the ESRB content descriptions on the backs of the video game packets. They list potentially objectionable content.

For example, “animated blood” refers to purple, green, or other kinds of unrealistic blood that may be shown during game play, while a listing of “blood” is an indicator that realistically depicted blood is part of the game play. Children highly sensitive to blood may not enjoy playing these games, even if they are rated for their age brackets.

3. Understand the Classifications When Shopping For Older Kids

Parents who have braved the age appropriate ratings, and also made it through reading the descriptions may now be stumped by a further classification: the kind of game-play their kids may expect.

Older kids may like “FPS” (First Person Shooter) games that put them into the action from a first person perspective, rather than seeing the character they are controlling doing the actions — which is the case in “TPS” (Third Person Shooter) games. In addition, some games are classified by the kinds of content that provides the storyline, such as vehicle simulation games, strategy games, or sports and puzzle games.

Shooter games are the most violent while strategy games are perhaps the most educational. Puzzle games require strategic thinking but do not offer a lot of action moves that appeal to teens.

4. Visit the Game Platform Manufacturer Website

Parents may visit the website for the gadget that will ultimately allow the kids to play the video games. This may be the website for PlayStation, GameCube, Nintendo, Xbox, and a host of sub-platforms. The companies list the video games made for them, their ratings, and more often than not also post trailers, screen shots, and brief outlines of the actual game itself.

Although such a website does not offer an in depth and unbiased analysis of the game, it is a rather useful tool for getting a good feel about game play and content without having to rely solely on a rating, the back of a package, or the marketing efforts.

5. Check with Organizations That Offer Independent Game Evaluations

There are various organizations that are not tied in with the video game industry and still offer advice to parents. Some groups focus on the educational aspects while others are faith based and review the games from this angle. Find a group that meets your personal criteria and peruse the reviews on various games you are considering for your kids.

One of the most well known groups is the Entertainment Consumers Association that offers insight into the industry as well as the games. Parents who want more detailed information about the games they are considering will do well to visit the forums and websites of such groups and learn from other parents whose kids might already be playing these games.

Since these are interactive forums, parents have the unique ability to actually ask questions of other parents, and if there is a particular concern about a game, this is the venue where to get more information.

If All Else Fails

Of course, if all else fails, there is the old fallback on the classic games and characters. Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Spyro, and Pokémon are game characters which have been around for a while and in a host of incarnations. Even as the educational value of some of these games is debatable, they do offer rip-roaring fun, rad moves, and most certainly the entertainment value the kids appreciate most. At the same time, they eschew foul language, nudity, and explicit violence parents object to.

Parents in a time crunch or those who simply cannot find a game that meets their standards will usually find a winner in these genres. Moreover, since they are part and parcel of a popular series, parents and kids can make the buying decisions together. For example, the popular Mario games offer offshoots like “Luigi’s Mansion” that offers the exploration of a haunted house, while other offshoots are cart racing games.

Completely different game play — yet the same reassuring characters and the same level of appropriateness — make this a premier opportunity for parents and children to agree on the game play the kids would like to try out, while staying away from potentially objectionable games that offer similar game play.

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Digital Games And Kids – A Different Perspective

The “Wikipedia problem” which means children turning to internet for readymade answers is the new age phenomenon baffling teachers and mentors globally. There are almost equal numbers of teachers who consider technology to be a solution as much as a problem. While a common belief is that technology is hindering the students’ capacity to think and analyze, there is also a strong opinion in favor of video games and digital gadgets’ ability to engage students and enhance learning by using more than one sensory stimulators. In spite of the growing concern about the students’ deteriorating attention spans, institutions are incorporating them in the process of classroom learning.

Children are inherently inquisitive creatures. They have a curiosity to discover new things and learn by way of discovering and experimenting even before they are subjected to methods of formal education such as reading or writing. Science is a discipline of experiments and discoveries. The National Science Education Standards emphasize that “science education needs to give students three kinds of scientific skills and understandings. Students need to learn the principles and concepts of science, acquire the reasoning and procedural skills of scientists, and understand the nature of science as a particular form of human endeavor. Students therefore need to be able to devise and carry out investigations that test their ideas, and they need to understand why such investigations are uniquely powerful. Studies show that students are much more likely to understand and retain the concepts that they have learned this way “. Hence, it becomes imperative to engage children in science education at an early stage.

Digital games are more capable to gain students’ interests and attention than other conventional means of imparting education in a classroom. However, some educationists also regard them as culprits of exponential decline in the attention span in children. The next sections in this article discuss the involvement of children in games in the tech age, types of games available in the market and the impact of digital gaming as learning aids in classrooms.

Gaming and the New Age Kids

Digital technology has expanded the horizons of video gaming in the modern world. Kids are subjected to far more complex and challenging technological environment than their counterparts were from over half a century back. Involvement of kids in digital gaming is a result of many significant changes in the lifestyle and culture of the modern society. Easy accessibility of technology, dispensable income due to dual income families and lack of infrastructure for outdoor activities in many cities are some major contributors in making screen games an important part of the children’s’ lives. A study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) found that only 20 percent of the census blocks are within half a mile of a block boundary. Also, the effect of peer pressure cannot be undermined in these times of social networking.

The digital gaming market is one of the fastest growing segments of the global entertainment industry. US is witnessing unprecedented penetration of digital games amongst youngsters. In the US, 97% of the teens play some type of game on a regular basis. In India, the gaming market has grown manifold in the last few years. Hence, it is imperative that educationists are continuously contemplating the use of digital gaming as a learning tool in classrooms. Institutions are also employing innovative ways to leverage the digital advantage for enhancing the learning experience at schools.

What are Digital Games?

There is no concrete definition of games as it may vary with an individual’s preference and profession. Games can be defined as a “system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, which result in a quantifiable outcome”. Technology and digitization add new dimensions to games where simulations, interactivity, augmented reality, alternative reality, collective intelligence and sensory stimulators such as sound and visual effects. Digital games are also characterized by their portability and limitless accessibility.

Role-playing games, simulation games and puzzles are some of the most popular digital games. In role-playing games, the player enacts the role of a particular character in a virtual world moving from one level to the other based on the outcome of the earlier level. RPGs can be single player such as the dungeons and dragons from earlier days of gaming or multi-player games such as Diablo III, Xenoblade, Final Fantasy XIII-2 or Mass Effect 3. MMORPG or the Massive Multiple Online Role-Playing Games are an extension of the RPGs where large number of players interacts in an online virtual world. Simulation games create realistic situations in virtual worlds. The outcome will depend on the player’s decision-making and responsiveness and will be closely similar to what may happen in a real world in the same situation. Widely used in training and analysis, simulation games are also popular due to their unpredictable and personalized outcomes. Flight Simulator X, Live for Speed (LFS) and Need for Speed have been extremely popular simulation games for a long time. Puzzles genre of digital games involves problem solving and analysis with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the nature of the game. Crosswords and treasure hunt games are basic forms of puzzle games in both physical and digital form.

All types of digital games involve a social involvement of players. Some need collaborative efforts to play while others may be discussed or analyzed socially. In spite of some games being accused of outright violent visual effects, a well-designed game can accelerate the thinking process by motivating, engaging, involving creativity and developing a meta-game i.e., social interactions inspired and enhanced inside or outside the game. Incorporating digital gaming in the basic education framework can lead to augmented competitiveness and multi-dimensional growth in children.

Digital Games in Science Education – Why and Why Not?

The 21st century requires the mentors and the students to integrate technology into the curriculum. Though the ultimate goal is to benefit the students in terms of learning and experience, unsupervised, unorganized or irrelevant application can lead to complete failure or have negative effects. Some of the negative impacts of digital games in general and in context with the education are listed below:

    • Digital games have been facing constant rebuke for allegedly enhancing aggression amongst kids and developing a violent streak at an early stage. In a study by Anderson and Bushman (2001), Children involved in violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and decreased prosocial helping. Use of weapons and being rewarded for being violent is a cause of widespread concern.


    • Digital games can be addictive for children and make them physically inactive. Digital games, other than social networking, are considered for reduced physical activity leading to obesity in kids and postural and skeletal disorders.
    • Addiction to games is also known to make kids socially secluded. Impulsive behavior, depression and increased anxiety levels are largely attributed to excessive gaming in children. Some studies also suggest that the children playing games are unable to concentrate for a long span and have reduced attention span.
    • Children are prone to absorbing socially unacceptable behavior through some digital games such as using profanities and ill-treating the fairer sex. Lack of adequate knowledge about screening the material available online is a growing concern amongst the parents.
    • Digital games are considered a hindrance to better performance in academics. Students are often found to skip homework to play games leading to deteriorated performance at school. However, despite their reputation as promoters of violence and mayhem, digital games have in fact been shown to help children learn skills, content, and vital “21st-century” skills. From digital games children can learn: content (from rich vocabulary to science to history), skills (from literacy to math to complex problem-solving), creation of artifacts (from videos to software code) and systems thinking (how changing one element affects relationships as a whole). Strong arguments in favor of using digital games as learning aids in secondary education are summarized below:
    • Digital games involve extreme hand-eye coordination and enhance motor and sensory skills. Sensory stimulation theory proposed by academician Laird (1985) validates that effective learning occurs when the senses are stimulated. While some studies show that digital gaming reduces attention span, there are strong evidences of improved concentration in short intervals of time. Digital games involve keeping an eye on every detail, follow the rules and respond proactively to the given situation. Complex digital games help is developing problem-solving and decision-making skills. Some games also involve logical analysis of the situation and pattern recognition and improve memorizing thus assisting in the cognitive process. Playing by the rules teaches children to accept and respect a certain level of discipline.
  • Multi-player digital games develop a sense of constructive competitive attitude. Collaborative games also improve team-building attitude. They develop time management skills in a team and train the players to cooperate for mutually desired goal. They teach the players to accept defeat as well as strive for better results. Digital games provide an avenue for hyperactive kids to direct the energy in a constructive system based game. They also provide an outlet to release aggression and frustration, thus helping in diffusing stress. Some games also involve physical activity such as Nintendo Wii boxing helping kids to engage mentally and physically with the kids. Complex digital games involve high level of multitasking thus improving brain’s natural learning process. Brain based learning theory proposes that multi-tasking is an inherent activity of the brain and learning is enhanced by challenges at various levels. Digital games develop efficient situational analysis and strategy making in children. Since games have certain objectives at every level and a final objective of the game, it teaches players to devise short term and long-term strategies such as scoring points, retaining energy and reaching the ultimate goal of the game. Simulation games and the role-playing digital games help players gain expertise or learn by experiencing in replicas of real world situations. Experiential learning and action learning theories are based on the premise that individuals learn faster when they by experiencing and actually participating in action.

“Games require the kind of thinking that we need in the 21st Century because they use actual learning as the basis for assessment. They test not only current knowledge and skills, but also preparation for future learning. They measure 21st century skills like collaboration, innovation, production, and design by tracking many different kinds of information about a student, over time. ”

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