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 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 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. 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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