Week 3’s review content is themed around children and play and is as follows:

  • GDC — Designing Apps and Games for Kids (The Right Way) (video, 2016)
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons (game by Nintendo, 2020) — Nintendo Switch
  • Assemble with Care (game by ustwo games, 2020) — PC
  • Child Development Theories and Examples (article by Kendra Cherry, 2020)
  • The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (article by Hector Rodriguez, 2006)

Designing Apps and Games for Kids (The Right Way)

This is a talk given at GDC within the ADC section. The interviewer speaks to various app developers with questions revolving around the topic of designing content for children. The main points that I gained from listening to the talk were that:

  • Don’t stray away from a format or system that works, especially if it’s popular
  • Education is at the forefront of a parents focus when picking content for their kids – other recommendations come from other parents, existing content e.g. disney, peppa pig
  • Ensure to test regularly to make sure there’s no issues and that children are enjoying it
  • It’s challenging to have in app purchases/revenue model – monkey preschool lunch box is a paid one off purchase – no other costs, maintenance or potential risk for a child to rack up debt
  • Expectation of something being free sets the environment; can’t change to a paid model after and vice versa
  • Apple don’t like the idea of consumers being children – changed model to educational packs for parents to purchase instead, physical toy purchase unlocks all app in content or $20 dollar one off fee
  • It’s hard to compete with top companies like disney as their focus isn’t on profit – need a different or unique approach to stand out
  • Oogley – not linear, more experimental play. Activities that werent meant to be educational like cave exploring to sneak it learning features
  • Present it an autonomous not parental way. This creates the idea that they are learning learn without feeling like they are actively pursuing it
  • Children need the feeling of success, accomplishment, reward etc and being challenged is equally important
  • Don’t interfere with the kids experience. It’s hard to not do it as a developer as you know how it’s meant to be played but it’s important to let a child play with the experience alone
  • Test wherever it will be used – homes, living rooms over office spaces
  • Kids hate reading!! Keep instructions to one sentence as tutorial text will often be skipped – voiceover is the best option
  • No overexplanation or being overly complicated – needs to be obvious and intuitive
  • Dont overauthor – over complicating or dressing up the game to hide that the gameplay isn’t very fun (adding bells and whistles)

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The recent release in the series by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch was a great success amongst children and adults alike. The title appeals to children not only due to the social aspect of being able to visit their friends islands and play together but because of the bright, appealing visual style and anthomorphic animal characters.

The game also helps to teach children the importance of helping others and responsibilities such as taking care of their house, island and even about debt! Other fun tasks include bug and fish catching, dressing their character, gifting, fossil hunting and seasonal events which add new experiences.

It also features a simple and intuitive design and UI alongside simple language, which allows children to quickly jump into the gameplay after the tutorial without assistance. Due to these features the game is rated at 3 years and upwards but is best played by children aged 5+ for the ideal experience.

Assemble with Care

Assemble with Care is a puzzle narrative driven game by Ustwogames available on Steam and iOS. I believe that this title is aimed at older children due to the complexity of the puzzles increasing as the player progresses through the experience. For example, the beginning puzzle of fixing the cassette player consists of less pieces and steps as opposed to the final music box which is made up of complex pieces and stages.

The overarching narrative focuses on the characters’ time in Bellariva and their interactions with the people they meet. By fixing objects, the player gains an insight into the owners lives. Due to the underlying messages and themes such as death of a parent/wife, and relationship difficulties within sisters, it is clear that the experience is designed for a slightly older audience. Although the overarching theme is simple such of the importance of helping others, even when you may not feel up to it.

The language and UI within the title is simple with storybook style illustrations between chapters to continue the tale. The accompanying text is not too complex and is quite short in length but would still be considered a lot of reading for a young audience. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience but would be best aimed at children aged 10–12+ dependant on the individuals level of maturity.

Child Development Theories and Examples

This article written by Kendra Cherry, covers an extensive range of psychological theories centred around child development including:

  • Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental – influenced by a experiences and unconscious desires. This is the idea that key events that occur within a certain age can have a long lasting effect on a child’s behaviour.
  • Erikson’s Psychosocial – focuses on eight stages of human development across a person’s lifespan. The belief that each stage brings it’s own conflicts which influence an individuals growth and functioning abilities.
  • Behavioural Child Development – this theory refers to the effects of environmental influences on a child. Examples include classical and operational conditioning. Classical is the act of associating an object with an action such as how a dog will associate it’s bowl with food. Operant is the notion of removing rewards or positive outcomes such as if a child behaves badly, they may have their treats taken away. This encourages the reduction in bad behaviour.
  • Piaget’s Cognitive — concerns a child’s thought processes and their general understanding of the world. This was broken down within the lecture into the different stages of Sensimotor (from birth to age 2), pre-operational (2–6 years), Concrete Operational (7–11) and Formal Operational (12+).
  • Bowlby’s Attachment — this is the idea that the most prominent person in a young persons life has the most impact on their development such as a care giver i.e. parent or guardian. Children that have a loving, close relationship will develop a mimicing personality and those that were distant could potentially have become disorganized and avoidant in nature.
  • Bandura’s Social Learning — observation is key to learning such as watching others complete tasks but doesn’t always have to be a live experience e.g. can be verbal or written instructions or watching real or fictional characters within media displaying different behaviours.
  • Vygotsky’s Sociocultural — the concept that children learn the most through activity and hands-on experiences. This introduces the proximal zone which is the space between what a child is capable to do on their own and what they require a parents help with; the aim is for this to close as they develop further.

The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga’s Homo Ludens

Within this piece, Rodriguez compares theories surrounding play to Homo Ludens by Huizinga. This includes play in relation to culture, human nature and life alongside the traditional topic of the Magic Circle. The part that resonated the most with me was within the final subsection surrounding “Performance and Exploratory Learning”. Here, the author, links the idea of serious games to enhancing the playful nature that education can provide. For example, the experiences created within serious educational games do not follow set boundaries and can involve exploration elements which leads to players learning throughout the process of playing; no set themes or facts. In continuation, Rodriguez continues to liken this theory in resemblance to performance art pieces in which the performers explore different themes and enhances the idea of experimentation being key in aquiring new skills and personal growth.

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