Video games can provide wonderful experiences and influence

Video games have gotten a bad rap in recent years due to attacks by the likes of disbarred attorney, Jack Thompson, a man who has been in the national spotlight due to the Virginia Tech shootings from over a year ago.  An ongoing feud between Thompson and Entertainment Consumers Association has set the stage for his crusade against violent video games.

Mr. Thompson has been fighting against violent video games like Take 2’s Grand Theft Auto series, Bully and Manhunt.

Thompson believes that video games are “murder simulators” and exist in order to promote violent behavior.  In an interview with MSNBC, Thompson said, “Murder simulators are not constitutionally protected speech. They’re not even speech. They’re dangerous physical appliances that teach a kid how to kill efficiently and to love it,”

Even game journalists have been speaking out against the current trend of violent video games, but for other reasons than social well-being.  IGN’s Mike Thomsen has spoken out against Gears of War for it’s overly simplistic “run-and-gun” style of gameplay, which often detracts from the experience he’s seeking out of video games.

The video game industry is still extremely young in relative terms to other forms of media, but that fact has not stopped developers from exploring the experimental, non-violent side of video games.

It’s important for parents to understand the field of video games that exist and then open their children up to these new experiences.  Anyone who spends a certain amount of time on X-Box Live or Playsation Network will find that It is a fact that children under the age of 17 do play Mature rated video games.  It is wrong to subject children to this kind of content before they can fully understand the experience, and it is up to the parents to help them understand.

The field of available video games is wide and expansive, but it is not hard to find the right kind of video game.  Parents who do not want their children to be contingent on violent subject matter may find it easy to go for the brand name Hanna Montana games.  They shouldn’t do that.  They wouldn’t feed chocolate to their kids before bed time, nor should they give them sugar-coated game experiences.

There is a wide variety of games that provide a source of learning for children or adolescents and all of them are completely non-violent.  The top-five will feature notable titles and obscure titles, but all of these are excellent experiences.

1. Big Brain Academy (Nintendo DS) Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree (Wii) Developer: Nintendo

The Brain Age series of games have been extremely popular since their release, and have driven sales for the DS with nearly 20 million copies sold world-wide.  Big Brain Academy picks up where Brain Age has left off with even more logic-based puzzles and tests.  These tests feature five puzzles that cover five categories:

  • Think (Logic-themed questions)
  • Analyze (Reason-based questions)
  • Compute (Math-themed questions)
  • Identify (Visual-themed questions)
  • Memorize (Memory-based questions)

These tests are then calculated to determine the subject’s brain mass, which in turn determine’s the player’s in-game profession.

2. Flower (PS3) Developer: That Game Company

Flower is the runaway success of 2009 for Genova Chen, the creator of Flow for the PSP and PS3. The object of Flower is to guide a trail of flower petals through a monochromatic field and restore the beauty it once had. The game is very simple and intuitive to play, but the most striking feature of this game is the sheer beauty of the environments.  A game like Flower is especially useful for soothing active children, as 1up.com puts it, “the freedom of movement makes the game feel as relaxing as a gently wafting breeze”  Flower also has the potential to start up a great discussion with kids as the story has themes of restoring the environment of the world.

3. Echochrome (PS3) (PSP) Developer: Japan Studio

If M.C. Escher was alive today and was a game developer, this is exactly the kind of game he would envision.  Echochrome is simple in its delivery, but infinitely complex in its gameplay.  The goal of the player is to guide a figure on an abstract plane of cubes and platforms, collecting other figures along the way.  The platforms come in many shapes and the perspective of the player can make gaps or holes between platforms disappear.

The best part of the game is the level of non-stress imposed upon the player.  There is no detrimental consequence to falling off a platform, the game simply starts the figure from the last platform it was standing on.  Furthermore, the player can take as much time as needed to complete a puzzle.  Echochrome has the power to provide any kind of gamer with a deep, enjoyable experience.

4. Kodu (X-Box Live Arcade) (PC) Developer: Microsoft

Kodu is the new programming environment specifically designed for children, but can be used by anyone of any age.  It is not a “game” per se, but a tool that allows children to understand the fundamentals of game design and programming languages.  Kodu Game Lab has two main mechanics that provide the easiest experience for the users:

  • it avoids typing entirely; users construct programs by assembling visual elements with a game controller
  • rather than a bitmapped or 2D display, programs are executed in a 3D simulation environment, similar to Alice

Kodu is a tool that should downloaded by anyone interested in picking up programming or game design.  It is priced at $5 and provides a very robust system for such a small price.  Users can then upload their created games to the community and can even be shared among friends.  The computer science field is growing at a fast rate, and it is important for kids to be introduced to this rewarding path.

5. LocoRoco (PSP) Developer: Japan Studio

LocoRoco is the Topsy-turvy game for the PSP that puts the player in charge of navigating a gelatinous creature safely to the end of a level.  The player starts with one locoroco, and must find all the other locorocos in the level.  Along the way, the player will encounter obstacles and puzzles.  As the locoroco eats berries, it increases in size.  Once the player accumulates enough locorocos, they will awaken one of the world’s strange inhabitants by singing, in which the player will earn a reward.  The art style and level design of LocoRoco is very creative and is a sure-fire win for children of any age.