Q: Do you have suggestions for how to find appropriate media, such as educational video games, for different ages, such as an 8-year-old boy who likes war stuff? I’d like to help direct him to more creative sites.
–Seeking solutions, in Burlington, VT
A: Dear Seeking,
It’s not always easy to know which video games will be exciting and engaging for a child and will teach him things you’d like him to learn. And you’re right: he will learn from whatever he plays, so your impulse to direct him toward games that teach positive lessons is a good one.
Remember that many boys of this age are interested in “war stuff,” and it’s actually developmentally appropriate for them to sort out how to resolve conflicts and master the complexities of winning and losing at this point in their lives. This often why they might like books about war and war-based games, like football and chess.
That said, there is a distinct difference between playing first-person shooter video games and reading war stories or playing chess, where the images of conflict are created in the player’s imagination. Video games are created by adult imaginations, informed by greater life experience and psychological defenses—and the best-selling games, which generate the greatest marketing “buzz”, are increasingly graphic and realistic. Because the player is not creating the images from his own experience bank, he may have difficulty handling or even forgetting these intense and scary virtual experiences.
The trick is to understand with him what he likes about war games—whether it’s that they allow him to role-play, that he likes being part of a developing storyline, or that they challenge him to strategize or solve problems—and then to look with him for games that present these challenges but that set game conditions and teach skills you want him to experience.
To do that, when he mentions a specific game, ask, in a non-judgmental way, “What do you like about this game?” Then, take a look at some parent-oriented reviews, many of which will give you more information about the game than the marketing or even the ESRB rating. You can take many games out of your library or demo them at a game store or on a website. If you think the game is a good match for him, great! If not, use the parent reviews to look for another that he’ll like and that educate him in the ways you’d like to educate him.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,