We got a video game system for the wee ones because Mister Man needed some help. He's autistic, though very high functioning. Socially, he's got a deficit, and his fine motor (ok his gross motor, too) is not quite on par with his peers. As he got into elementary school, he needed to have some things that made him fit in with his peers who have been walking around with their noses glued to their DSs since preschool (not joking - in preschool, he was the only kid on the bus not playing with a DS on the way to and from school every day).
The gaming would allow him to improve his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills, I justified. And he'd know about video games and be able to jump in when his friends at school talked about them. Little did I know that there's actually research to support this! I recently attended the Activision Games for Girls Summit featuring Suzanna Kantra, a mom and tech expert, cohosted by Chicagonista where not only did we learn more about the benefits for gaming (and they are out there) but also many of the new games Activision is releasing this fall that are aimed at girls - yay for Little Miss!
The stereotype is that girls don't game. It's the boys who are enmeshed in the world of gaming and who are the ones who want to spend all their time playing. Not true in our house, as Little Miss is just as anxious to play as Mister Man when they're given the opportunity (and yes, we strictly limit our screen time for them, so they don't have anywhere near an open invitation, nor can they play every day even). In fact, according to a 2010 A&U study, 40 percent of gamers 8-12 are female. Little Miss is definitely one of those, even though she's only 6.
When she plays, I am always in the room with her, and I'm frequently playing with her because ... well, the games are fun. Brigham Young University's School of Family Life conducted a study in February 2011 where they found that girls who played video games with a parent had positive impacts on their lives. They behave better, they feel more connected to their families, and they have stronger mental health - all things that I want for Little Miss. Interestingly there aren't the same impacts on boys who play with an adult, but I'm still using this as proof in my excuse that I need to play with them.
There are overall benefits to gaming for everyone, including some of the ones for Mister Man that I instinctively knew and others that I hadn't been aware of. According to “Reality is Broken,” By Jane McGonigal of the University of California at Berkley’s Institute for the Future, published January, 2011 Penguin Press, games provide us with the 4 ingredients that make for a happy meaningful life: satisfying work, real hope for success, strong social connections, and a chance to become a part of something bigger than ourselves. More critically, since gamers spend 80 percent of their time failing at the game, it helps make them more resilient in the face of other failure - something both of the wee ones need.
Part of the reason for this is that video games progress - they get harder as we go further into them. According to an article in the Boston Globe in October, 2009, this helps to keep people at the edge of their abilities and constantly pushes them further, something we all need to learn to be comfortable with if we want to succeed in life. Adaptive challenge is stunningly powerful for learning, according to John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at MIT.
There are measurable benefits, as well. The Office of Naval Research has proven that playing video games teaches our brains to process information faster and that gaming improves our fundamental abilities to reason and problem solve in novel contexts. In 2004, a study on the cognitive neuroscience of games showed that those who played video games had several improvements compared to non-video game players. They had faster reaction times and increased hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity, as well as increased spatial skills. The video game players also showed a better ability to divide and switch attention, meaning they could pay attention to more than one object/person at a time. I feel better about using video games sometimes as therapy for Mister Man since he can use improvement in all of these areas - as can we all.
That said, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours for kids older than 2 (and zero for children under 2), which includes all screen time from video games to computers to television and the like. Setting those limits is critical to ensure that the other parts of their brains and bodies also develop. Fortunately, the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California found that children who strongly agreed their parents had rules about television viewing time were less likely to exceed recommended screen time limits. Set your limits!
So what is Activision doing in this realm? They have more than twenty new games coming out this fall, with several of them aimed specifically at girls who frequently are interested in playing games but can't find any that are interesting to them. The games Activision is releasing are all on the DS platform, as research has shown that girls are more likely to play DS compared to other platforms (interestingly, not in our household, however, where the Kinect gets the biggest workout and the DS often goes forgotten). We brought up the concern that the DS is less social than many of the other platforms, but research apparently shows that girls talk about what they're doing, watch over each others' shoulders and otherwise interact about the game even when it isn't on a large screen where everyone is playing the same game at the same time.
At the Summit, we had the opportunity to see six of these games in action and try them out before five of them were even released. And I promise that although I was having lots of fun playing Squinkies 2: Adventure Mall Surprise during part of the presentation, I promise I was paying attention to all that was said and done - see, gaming does help improve your ability to divide and switch attention. In that game, you use your Squinkie to find other Squinkies throughout the mall to invite them to a party. Your Squinkie has to search to find the over 600 Squinkies in the game to invite them by jumping (including a funny squishy high jump), bouncing, climbing and more. Each DS game also includes aan exclusive, limited release and ultra-rare 3-piece Squinkies playset. This game was released on October 25, so you can go find it now.
We also played Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo where the online game is now expanded to the DS as of November 6. Here you explore the Wooly Wilderness in search of ultra rare Moshlings to add to your zoo. You can play games within the game to keep your Moshlings happy and healthy. This isn't identical to the online game, and it isn't meant to be. The game instead focuses on becoming an extension of the online game so that it isn't simply a repeat.
Are your girls wayyyyy into Lalaloopsy? There's a DS game now, also released on November 6! You choose your Lalaloopsy friend and then work to match the Lalaloopsy girls with their missing pets. You can then do all sorts of fun crafts once you've found the pets; each one has their own mini-game craft. And yes, each game comes with an actual mini Lalaloopsy doll. Too cute!
Zoobles! Spring to Life! launched November 1 has players care for their companions. They can bathe them when they're dirty, cook for them, and play different games with them. Each Zooble also has a Happitat (happy + habitat = happitat) that players decorate to perfectly suit them from furniture to decorations and more. You can make friends with other Zoobles in the game, as well, though the game focuses on paying attention to and caring for your own Zooble. And yes, for now each Zooble game includes a Zooble toy.
And of course there has to be a ZhuZhu Babies game (also released November 1). ZhuZhu Pets are huge in my house, and with this game, players care for the ZhuZhu Babies in a nursery as they run wild. When the ZhuZhu Babies are tired, you must put them to sleep, feed them when they're hungry, and more. They each have their own personalities, which makes the game fun. As you explore the world to find the missing ZhuZhu baby Razzmataz, you have to also find hiding spots for them as they travel. It's much more fast paced than I had expected but tons of giggling fun.
And then there's the Wappy Dog, which is a brand new interactive pet. You can either interact with him via your DS (home mode) or leave him at home while you play with a virtual version of the Wappy Dog on the DS (travel mode). Through the DS, players can communicate by selecting prompts on their DSs where the dog responds via barks and moving, and yes, he does tricks. The perfect pet, no? When the Wappy Dog isn't with the player, you can play games online from grooming to feeding and more. Once you reconnect the dog to the DS game, there is a data exchange so that the dogs are really one dog to the player. It's pretty cool, I think, and nice for when you can't bring the dog with you. He is released today - November 8.
At the event everyone attending was given a bag filled with goodies from Activision from the not yet released DS games - Lalaloopsy, Zoobles! Spring to Life!, Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo, Squinkies 2: Adventure Mall Surprize!, and ZhuZhu Babies. There's also a Wappy Dog. And toys featuring characters to go with most of the games. And Moshi Monsters trading cards. And a magazine. Phew - in my house this is Santa for a few kids! So what do you have to do to win all of this? First of all, let me stress that you must follow all the rules. If you do not follow the rules, your entry will not count!
This contest is open until Tuesday November 22 at 7pm CST. I must have a valid way to reach you, so leave me your email address in your comment or be sure your profile has your email address visible. No duplicate comments will count. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and older. Winners will be selected via random.org and must respond within 48 hours of being notified by me or I will select a new winner.
Mandatory Entry: Tell me what video games you remember playing growing up - what was your favorite?
Bonus Entries (leave a comment for each entry - if you put it all in one comment, I'll count it as one entry):
1) Earn one additional entry for following me on Twitter, then tweeting this contest with the following tweet: "Love your DS? Need some games for your girls? Check out this score #giveaway from @honestandtruly http://bit.ly/t8DyrP" (leave a link to your tweet as your comment and make sure you do all the steps!)
2) Earn one additional entry by following this review blog publicly via Google Friend Connect.
3) Earn one additional entry by following my “regular” blog Honest & Truly! publicly via Google Friend Connect.
And no, you won't earn any extra entries for it, but you will get good karma for liking me on Facebook!
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a bag filled with similar items to the giveaway described above at the Activision Games for Girls event. I was not asked to write about my experience, nor was I compensated for this campaign. That said as always, all opinions expressed remain my own.