Mobile gaming with kids - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Mobile gaming with kids
Monday, 07 March 2016 at 06:07 pm
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I spent the weekend with ghoti's ex, celebrating his fortieth birthday. I like living the kind of life where I can write that sort of sentence! Anyway, the party itself was very cool, it had good food, and really impressive fancy cake made by [twitter.com profile] planetxanna, and interesting conversation; my girlfriend's ex introduced me to someone who's just submitted her PhD thesis on early Christian art history as someone who would be interested in her academic field.

And yes, I was indeed very interested, and also quite flattered that a host would think that was a useful way to make a connection between me, professionally a natural scientist, and another guest. I learned about this third century synagogue where not only is there representational art, which doesn't surprise me that much for the period, but actual images more or less of God, namely a hand coming out of the clouds, as you commonly see in lots of much later Christian art when they're less squeamish about drawing pictures of God.

The rest of the weekend we were all pretty exhausted, and mostly spent it sitting around in girlfriend's ex's home drinking tea and talking and just generally being tired. It was really nice to catch up with [personal profile] khalinche as part of this, and to get to know the hosts better too. This meant that the main form of entertainment available for the children was playing electronic games; they played some imaginative games too and Judith persuaded me to do a drawing challenge, and they weren't really willing to be dissuaded from doing running around and climbing on the furniture types of games too. So further report on what games I'm finding work well with small children.

We're still playing a bit of Haunt the house, but it's somewhat limited in replayability, I think the littles mainly ask for it because they know it's on my phone and they mainly want to play with me, rather than for the sake of the game. About half my games are from the Humble Bundles and cost money at full price, whereas the others are usually, by some very generous definition of the word, approximately free to play, and those ones they're allowed to ask for their parents to install on their own devices so they can play them without necessarily having to pester me.

There are some games I really don't like to let the children play unsupervised, not because they're in any way X-rated, but because they're full of dirty tricks to try to fool or manipulate you into paying real world money for in-app purchases. The children have accounts that are sandboxed so that they can't accidentally buy from the app store, but such games are often really frustrating because so many paths lead to the app store and you have to interrupt gameplay to cancel the error messages if you don't have access to it. And that's not just a consequence of letting the children loose on adult games, it's a big problem with many games directly designed for pre-school and not fully literate children, which is really infuriating.

Then there are games which are unsuitable for the children because they just play too fast for their physical coordination. That category is not actually huge, because I'm not a particularly fast gamer myself and I won't usually play anything that requires really high levels of physical skill. And also because Judith at least is willing to keep on practising with really quite a lot of determination, even if it takes dozens of goes to get to the point where she doesn't instantly die. Like, she's getting quite good at a racing sim I'm fond of, called Riptide GP2. It's a low fidelity sim where you mostly just race round the track as fast as possible and steer by tilting the device, plus you can do fancy moves with various combinations of touch gestures. I usually can't be bothered with racing games that resemble real-world driving, but I'm impressed at Judith's perseverance to keep playing even though her first several tries she could barely control the bike at all, I wouldn't have lasted more than a couple of goes at something that much too fast for me. She's also got pretty good at Color sheep, another Humble Bundle find, which outside of HB is marketed as a pay-once game. I don't think it's specifically aimed at kids, but it has a colourful fantasy / cartoon flavour and graphics. And it does have a "junior" mode which Judith used to practise until she was fast enough for "normal" mode.

There are games which are just too complex for small children, but again, not very many, both the children have a really high degree of fluency in video games in general, and are also very willing to learn if an adult explains the basic principles of the game if those are not obvious from tutorial mode. Andreas was attracted by Bloons: Monkey City which looks from its icon like a kids' game, with a cute cartoon of a monkey. But I steered him away from that, I don't think I can explain a fairly complex multi-layered tower defence game to a four-year-old, even a very bright one. If nothing else it requires too much planning ahead and delayed gratification. And it's also really nasty about in-app purchases and multiple obfuscating layers of different currencies, really too much like a shopping sim to unleash on kids who are not fully numerate and most importantly literate yet. I wonder if I should introduce them to Plants vs Zombies, as a tower defence game which is colourful and cartoony, but much more than Bloons runs on rails, you acquire the tower improvements more or less automatically as you play through linearly, rather than needing to make long-term budgeting and strategic decisions.

Judith can play and enjoy some of [personal profile] simont's Portable puzzles, Inertia which is nearly all just looking where you're going rather than needing to make any decisions, and Map, which requires a minimal level of logical inference that exactly the right level of challenging for her. But others she finds frustrating, such as Guess, the implementation of the game that's sometimes called Mastermind, which has slightly higher order logical deductions involved. At the weekend she started getting really into Flow Free, a game where you have to join the dots of the same colour, filling all the space and not allowing the pipes to cross. [personal profile] cjwatson said it was an interesting mix of intuition and logic, and she's pretty clearly using both. The interesting thing about that one is that Andreas, who doesn't really have the patience for most logical puzzle games yet, got on really quite well with the earlier levels of Flow Free, I think partly because of that intuitive side.

I may also have got both children into Neko Atsume, the virtual pet thing that many adults are amazingly addicted to considering that it has almost no actual gameplay, and is very slow-paced. You do stuff, you wait a few hours, and then very simply drawn but incredibly endearing cats show up and look cute. There is a bit of a shopping element to it, but no obfuscated levels of premium currency, you can basically either afford stuff or you can't. I'm surprised how well it works for Andreas, normally delayed gratification is not at all his thing. But then again, I'm surprised how well it works for adults, because on paper it really shouldn't be fun.

I've been playing a fair amount of Crossy Road, which is a good-humoured modern-ish interpretation of Frogger. I say modernish, it has that 8-bit nostalgia style, but the graphics are ridiculously more sophisticated than the original game, so I'm not quite sure exactly what nostalgia market it's aiming for. Perhaps gamers who are too young to actually remember the 80s but like the idea of that sort of gaming aesthetic. Judith loves it; she says her favourite thing about the game is that the blocky style reminds her of Minecraft. And the ways it tries to get you to spend real money are simplistic enough that she can see through them, and the game is certainly playable without spending money. In fact, I learned at the weekend that she has been watching videos about it and was able to tell me of some easter eggs I would never in a million years have stumbled on just by chance.

Judith in turn introduced me to Clay Jam, which is a Katamari Damacy style game where you roll over things to grow bigger in order to roll over more things. It has absolutely gorgeous graphics, being set in a world made of plasticine.

I haven't tried Minecraft itself yet; I'm starting to think I perhaps should.

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ghoti: default
From:ghoti
Date:March 8th, 2016 07:52 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 08:52 am (ghoti's time)
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Perhaps I need to change the way I view payment for games. At the moment, it comes from a pot which is relatively small but could come from a bigger pot. I do pay for games occasionally, anyway. |And I don't particularly sandbox so they can't pay, I just made the app store password protected, which means they need my password. I prefer those because there's no way to bypass ads and sometimes the ads are hideously unsuitable :(
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livredor: geekette
From:livredor
Date:March 8th, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:07 pm (livredor's time)
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Not at all trying to persuade you to spend more money on games. I know you did buy Olo for the kids after I got everybody addicted to it, for example. And thank you, passworded would be a more accurate word than sandboxed.

Regarding the hideously unsuitable ads, we should perhaps talk about this further; I haven't really been keeping an eye on what content the littles look at. Like the other day Judith explained that she'd watched a video in order to get some in-game bonuses, and I thought, fine, she obviously knows what she's doing. But I was only thinking about financial safety, not moral safety, so I should make sure I know what you disapprove of so I can help to avoid it.
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woodpijn: default
From:woodpijn
Date:March 8th, 2016 08:43 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 09:43 am (woodpijn's time)
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Ooh, this is really interesting!

We haven't really run into the in-app purchases issue. We have some free games, some full-price bought games (still pretty cheap though), and some from humble bundles. Bethany's favourite games at the moment are some kids' point-and-click adventures: the Freddi Fish series and the Pajama Sam series. They're really good, just like the point-and-click adventures Alex and I love, but aimed at kids and so easier. They have plenty of humour. I'm hoping in a couple of years to introduce her to Monkey Island etc :)

Both kids are surprisingly much into educational games. I recommend the Numberjacks ones - they're very well-designed, and there are at least three at different levels, a counting one which Zoe likes, an addition one which Bethany plays and Zoe can sort of play, and a multiplication one for Bethany. We also have a sight-words-recognition game with a cute frog and a strong American accent - so much so that it's not always obvious to the kids which word it's saying. I'd prefer a British equivalent, and/or something more phonics-based, but they both like the frog.

They also both like drawing games. We have a Peppa Pig themed drawing game, which is buggy and crashes a lot, but is quite versatile, with freehand drawing or insertion of various characters and objects; and a couple of cool programs (Kids Doodle and Magic Kaleido) which let you draw freehand in funky neon colours, and Kaleido reflects what you've drawn eight ways so you get lovely symmetrical patterns.

We also have a phone implementation of the board game Hey That's My Fish, which Bethany likes (and plays against us and against the AI); and a Flying Penguin game, which is a reimplementation of the flying penguin Flash games which were popular some years ago, and which I installed primarily because Zoe kept asking for "the penguin game" and is too young to understand Hey That's My Fish.

Bethany also likes some of Simon's puzzles. Net is her favourite (rotating tiles to connect up bits of circuit).

Crossy Road looks good; I might get that. Frogger was the first game I ever played, at about age 4. Clay Jam sounds good too.
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ghoti: default
From:ghoti
Date:March 8th, 2016 10:10 am (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 11:10 am (ghoti's time)
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The thing is, it's been coming out of my pocket money, and until recently, I was only awarding myself about £5 every three weeks. Which meant that even a £2 game was a big chunk of that.
On my phone atm the most popular apps are the Cbeebies apps. teh Disney 'Where's My?' series (Where's my water was the original), all the lego games but especially Lego City, and Andreas has just got into Endless ABC. DragonBox is pretty good, too, I'd recommend that - it's an algebra game and apparently they do a numbers one too but I haven't tried that. I've just had Squeebles recommended too, so meaning to try that.
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woodpijn: default
From:woodpijn
Date:March 8th, 2016 04:47 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry, 05:47 pm (woodpijn's time)
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About half the games I mentioned were free (the two doodling ones, the Peppa drawing one, the flying penguin one, and Simon's).

Oh yes, Where's my Water, I forgot about that! B was very into that a few months ago. They also both like the CBeebies ones.
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ghoti: default
From:ghoti
Date:March 8th, 2016 07:37 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 08:37 pm (ghoti's time)
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*nod* I was just explaining why sometimes 'still quite cheap' has been something I'd still say no to.
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livredor: geekette
From:livredor
Date:March 8th, 2016 08:10 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:10 pm (livredor's time)
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Ooh, awesome recs, thank you. I haven't downloaded any specifically educational games; I know ghoti has a bunch of those, and when they're borrowing my phone, the kids playing games I like is plenty educational. Other than Monkey Island itself, I'm not much into point-and-click adventures; do the ones Bethany plays require much reading, or are they mainly pictorial?

I think you recommended Hey, that's my fish before and it sounds like something I should get, it's useful to have board games on my phone for when we're travelling etc. What a great idea to find Zoe a simpler penguin game, too.
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woodpijn: default
From:woodpijn
Date:March 8th, 2016 08:18 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:18 pm (woodpijn's time)
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They're all voice-acted :) I think they also have the text on-screen (perhaps as optional subtitles?) but there's no reading needed.
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woodpijn: default
From:woodpijn
Date:March 8th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry, 05:51 pm (woodpijn's time)
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I tried Clay Jam. It's pretty hard, and real-time, so I don't think it'd be Bethany's thing. It is very pretty though.
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