Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gaming for Kids: Scribblenauts Unlimited

I am a firm believer, that if a kid is going to be in front of a computer, or any other screen, it sure the heck better be educational.   The problem with television, it lacks the interactive component and strips the parent out of the mix.  Yes, the TV has its place, like to divert kid while you get those dishes done, or do a quick shave. Gaming, however, offers a much richer experience over TV, such as: Immersion, Engagement, Sense of presence, and Shaping the experience.

So, for educational interaction on a long cold winter day, that involved both child (mine is still 3 as of this writing) and parent (who's age is older then I'd like to admit); I gave the PC version Scibblenauts: Unlimited a go.  The result, High Adventure with a welcomed educational payoff.  The catch, is to remember; its a kids game, so ignore the reviews that shoot it down for repetitiveness. 

There are plenty of reviews on the interweb, that detail the game.  So in a nutshell, you're a kid, that has to help people.  You travel around a map that has various themed locations.  As you progress in the game, a new themed location is unlocked.  Within each place, you'll find several people looking for help to solve a situation or problem.  The method to the solution; you type in nouns and adjectives into your "notebook" and the object magically appears. Now this is the allure for big kids, who say might want to create the, nouns: Cthulhu and Big Foot, then make them adjective: lovers, then watch the bizarre play out.  But for the more innocent, and less deranged mind, each task has a obvious solution.  But to a child, not so much.  And this is where the learning begins.

Memorization  - The Keyboard mini-game
The first step, is how you approach the game with your kid. I have an old wireless keyboard I let my kid play with.  We started with leaning how all the keys are arranged on the keyboard.  It was pointed out to me several times that the keys were in the wrong order.  Once over that little tidbit, my kid was able to locate a-z in a reasonable amount of time.  This is an important exercise, as it'll decrease the screen time and frustration that could arise when trying to spell within the game.

Critical Thinking
This game gives a unique importunity to peer into your child's frame of mind.  With every character that needs help in the game, encourage you kid to give an answer.  More often then naught, they'll be able to give you the correct answer.  Reading the request and giving clues so your kid will understand are good ways to encourage an answer.  I mean, what kid doesn't know what a pirate would need to be a pirate?  Or someone is sick, what do they need?  Medicine, of course.

This is really the heart of the game.  A few examples:

Puzzle Example A:
"Someone wants to live the good life, give them two items."  My daughter answered: Lollipops & chocolate.  Apparently that IS the good life for a 3 year old.

The mighty trident fork
Puzzle Example B:
"Poseidon needs to gain control of his people.  Give him something to help him rule."  I added the hint:  What does Ariel's Dad hold in his hand.  Kid answer:  A fork!

Never run with scissors kids
Puzzle Example C & D:
Request: "Help the old man cut his grass."  Daughter's answer:  create and use scissors on grass.
Request: "Help boy get past bully to get to school."  Action: since one must drop item to create new item - drop scissors.  Suddenly boy proceeds to pick up your scissors and chase bully with them.  Not probably the textbook solution, but it worked.

A Song of Ice and Fire
Since we generally tried to complete 1 location with every session (about 15 - 20 minutes), we would begin the session the same way.  Clicking on the global map icon, which would show us a bird eye view of the area and each of its unique locations.  The locations are unlockable and grouped together with a common theme.  For example, "Desert theme" would have locations: pyramids, dunes, mine shaft, etc.   Being able to relate a location with the overall world, helped with the immersion, and helps diversify the gameplay.

Mone is solution to all problems, when spelled right
Encouraging your kid to spell out the object they are trying to create.  This often resulted in the same solution for various problem (you'd be surprised how many problems can be solved with a "bat").  If a misspelling is detected, it will highlight the word red, and if submitted, it'll give a list of suggestions, much like a friendly spell check.  For harder words, I'd go ahead and spell out the word and go over why the word is spelled that way.

Since the game offers up both nouns and adjectives as input, this created another opportunity to practice grammar.   Its one thing to describe what the differences are, its another to see them in action. It wasn't long before any animal that we'd created, would need an associated adjective to go along with it.  Big purple dinosaurs were discouraged.

Cowboy: My cow jumped over the moon, get it back

In summary, this game is a fantastic way to teach spelling, grammar,  geography, and problem solving while keeping both parent and child engaged.  In fact, its probably the best edutainment game I've seen, even though it wasn't advertised as such.  Music is pretty catchy too.  The PC version is tied into Steam's workshop mod shop.  So unofficial licensed characters such as Hulk, Captain America, or Binders of Women can be imported to your notepad.

No comments: