Master J plays a Go-Cart game on his mum's Galaxy S phone, with the Pororo clip he's found on his own on YouTube paused in the background...
Master J has been pretty keen on mobile phone-based games for the last year or so. He has also taken a real liking to YouTube, and become quite adept at using it all on his own to find his favourite vintage Disney clips as well as a host of other cartoon series.
His latest craze is with the insanely popular Angry Birds game app.
I'm sure I'm not alone in being a parent who wonders how advantageous or possibly detrimental early exposure to (and independent proficiency with) digital media and games can be for younger children. As someone who had to go down the street and find one of those tabletop versions of Space Invaders to play with as a child of similar age, I'm not exactly born with the sort of antenna that provides readily accessible judgment calls in this area.
I think it's safe to say that there is in fact a lot of development going on when our six-year-old immerses himself in these games. Cognitive and spatial awareness. Problem-solving. Hand-eye coordination. Objective-setting. The list goes on.
Beyond the fact that I had very little access to these things at a similar age, I think the real issue is that it is so hard to see how digital games are helping our boy develop; on the contrary, the negative effects (obsession, crankiness when denied access, seemingly completely cut off from the real world surroundings, etc.) appear to be so much more salient.
So I basically found a way to actually see into this a little deeper, drawing also on my belief that two particular activities -- speaking and visualising -- are fantastic for early childhood development.
I got Master J to explain the games to me. And to draw them.
This is Master J's visualisation of how Angry Birds works.
Well, sort of.
As it turns out, he also uses this picture to imagine playing the game (which he does by moving his finger over the paper and orally explaining processes, interrupted by regular sound effects). AND, by drawing it he can make his own version of it, with the sorts of inclusions he personally wants to see there.
Interacting with this picture during 'story time' in bed, it is mind-boggling to hear what Master J is thinking, realising and imagining. As I mentioned, I think the visualisation and oracy is very good for him as a developing little person, but the talking also maintains a social aspect that I think is really important.
And a dad worrying about whether his kid is sinking into a sort of mental and social stupor finds he actually has rather little to worry about (and a whole lot to celebrate).
If you're worried about your kids with digital games, I think that really depends on what you're doing with them. That's you as in plural: you and your child together.