More Than Playtime
The site went quiet for a little while as my life and the company have made a couple of changes. First, my wife and I have welcomed a new baby boy into our lives. He has taken up all of my time since June 28th but I finally got an opportunity amongst the late nights, dirty diapers, and everything else that comes with a baby. As for the changes occurring within the company, those will be discussed with all of you at a later time. Having a son in my life, I began thinking about all of the things I will do with my son and all of the moral lessons I would like to impart on him. One of the biggest things I’m looking forward to is a chance to play games with my son and to build memories the way I did with my father.
Video games are becoming a bigger and bigger part of kids lives today. At one time, video games were nothing more than an arcade feature. They then became a form of home entertainment, albeit one with a hefty price tag and low graphical quality. Since the days of Atari and 2D games with single audio channels, we grew to have basic 3D graphics and a few sound channels through to now, where we have 3D games with amazing graphics that get closer and closer to the photorealistic level. This causes a lot of people to worry about the effect of video games on kids, usually coming down to the fear of these games causing violence in the next generation. This is silly, as millions of gamers a year don’t do anything violent and serial killers and murderers have been around long before video games were ever even a thought in someone's mind. What video games are much better for, is critical thinking.
Real Time Strategy games have been around for a long time and have sharpened kids strategic minds, much like Chess did for kids before strategy games. Games such as Warcraft and Starcraft have caused players to think critically not only about how they will use troops that they have and what avenues of attacks they have available, but the resource and technology management have added additional levels of decision making to the game before even meeting your opponent in the game. There are lots of strategies that players use involving early attacks, sneak attacks, resource gathering to overwhelm the enemy with units, and many other strategies involving groups of units to send into battle. This final strategy is most like chess, different players build up units of different compositions and they will use different strategies based on what their opponent uses as their unit builds. When players encounter each other in a competitive match, they will often probe one another to discover what kind of strategy their opponent is using and will use a counter strategy. Each player can then adjust their strategies much like how a professional chess player has many movesets they can use based on the pieces on the board. This teaches players to be flexible and able to shift quickly based on what they see in front of them.
Meanwhile, you have puzzle games like Portal that will push players to strategize an approach to solve a puzzle before attempting to execute the whole strategy in one fell swoop. The player can view the puzzle in the room before taking a single step and would be able to see what tools are available. Maybe a room has a laser or an energy ball moving around the room and you have to get them into a receiver that will open the door to let you out. The player can look at where the energy ball or laser is moving and can look at where to place portals to manipulate the pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile there could be a more advanced puzzle where the player could think they know how to solve a puzzle but when they try to execute their plan, they may make it halfway using the portals they have but will realize that they don’t quite have the solution right. At that point, the player can step back and view what they did, what worked, and what didn’t. Perhaps a player thought they could put a few portals in place to power three doors but then they realize that they can only use two portals, however there is a reflective tool that can be used to redirect a laser to a door. The player can look at how to get all three lasers to go through one portal instead of trying to use multiple portals. These types of puzzle games are great because they will often get you to view simple solutions and will then use your own memory of that puzzle to intentionally throw off your ability to solve that puzzle. This means that these games are good at causing players to evaluate everything available to them and to develop a strategy. It also means that when the strategy falls apart and the player has to reevaluate their approach.
One of the final examples of how great a video game can do a job of being good for a developing mind is the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. In a game that has everything based on rules of how the objects in the world interact with one another, there is always more than one way to get past a puzzle or an enemy. Many shrines in the game have a proper solution but they can be solved in unconventional ways. For example, one shrine has you use the stasis ability to lock boulders in place for the player to then build up energy before letting all of the built up energy loose, launching the boulder off the path and down into the ravine. However, some players discovered that by jumping off the path at just the right angle and then kicking into a shield surf in order to get a little extra distance, allowing them to skip past the boulder completely and saving time.
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
Then there is the open world where you can choose to climb a mountain side using the climbing mechanic or you can climb a mountain path that has more enemies on it. This open world allows players to choose dozens of paths and approaches for making it through the game. You can go through any of the dungeons in any order, you can focus on shrines or you can just enjoy the side quests in all of the towns and at the stables around the world. Every shrine and quest gets you more gear and power to help you to fight through the final fight with Ganon. Players can choose to fight Ganon at the very beginning of the game, or you can go through the world getting stronger. The fact that there isn’t any hand holding means that a player can go through the world making decisions as to how well equipped they are and whether they are ready for the final showdown or not. This is just the decisions that all the players get for how to approach the world of the Breath of the Wild. Every shrine and dungeon has puzzles that are all filled with puzzles to be solved.
All of these games actually grow critical thinking skills and allow players to get better at problem solving. Whether the player is solving puzzles, determining how prepared they are for a tough fight, or strategizing like a digital form of Chess, they are all learning how to react to new situations and how to be flexible in their approaches to different problems. These types of games can show how video games are much more than a game to play. All of these games can show how great video games can be for fostering skills that are helpful as kids grow up. Not all games are good for these types of skills but many are. These types of non educational games with educational aspects are one of the ideas we like here at Monkey Brain Labs. We want as many of our games to help players grow as we can. Hopefully, many children, my own son included, can play these games and grow to learn new skills or learn to look at things from a new angle and our games can be good for more than playtime.