I can’t remember when the negotiations with our five year-old began, but they’ve been going on for a while now. They involve an ongoing discussion of what he’s allowed to play and how much time he can spend with our iPhone. I remember a quieter, simpler time when he was satisfied with looking over my shoulder while I played Koi Pond. But he’s older now, and sometimes talking with him is like trying to carry on a conversation while rafting down a roaring mountain stream.
In the past few months, we’ve watched our son play a lot of games on the iPhone, and have come to some general conclusions about the suitability of different games for a boy his age.
- Some games are initially intriguing to him—opening screens, etc.—but his level of physical coordination isn’t enough to play the game. Games in this category include Monkey Ball, Crazy Penguin, Labyrinth, and UpThere.
- He can get a good start on some games, but they quickly become too difficult for him. Games like this include Topple, Ancient Frog, Trace, Jelly Car, and Maze Finger.
- There are some “mental games” that he will dabble with if you sit with him. These include Word Magic and Chicktionary.
- One-time joke games, including Kitty Kannon, Finger Sprint, Pocket Guitar, Light Saber, and SonicLighter are OK. He’ll toy with these for a few minutes, but then it’s on to more intriguing stuff.
- He can handle some games that are oriented towards older players, but these are simply not active enough to intrigue him. Example: Zen Bound.
- There are some games that he likes initially, but just doesn’t stick with, for reasons we can’t determine. These include Snowboard and Space Deadbeef.
- Finally, there are what we call “gold mine games”—ones that he will play for hours (if we let him). These include Archibald’s Adventures, LightBike, Bounce, and Pocket God.
Developing mind and body
We are gratified when our son likes games that help develop his mental abilities and mind-body coordination. Right now, his favorite game is Archibald’s Adventures, which requires all kinds of problem solving strategies. Now and then he comes to ask for help in getting through a difficult level, but he’s able to go quite a long way on his own. Sometimes we “brain it out” together and sometimes he just bails out on a level and moves on to another one. It’s intriguing to watch how much this game has captured my son’s attention.
My son surprises me sometimes. He’ll persist with games like Jelly Car, which I think are too daunting for his age. He’ll also abandon games that he’s favored for a while, like Moto Chaser and more recently, Edge. I’m not sure whether he’s completely lost interest in these games or some shiny new game has captured his attention for a while.
Right now, he’s bouncing between LightBike, Archibald’s Adventures, and Digital Chocolate’s 3D Brick Breaker Revolution. Old-timers will recognize the last one as a turbocharged version of Breakout, but with classier graphics.
As I mentioned earlier, we’re gratified to see him playing games that help him develop mental abilities. A new find, Word Magic, is just what he needs right now for reading and spelling comprehension. We need to sit with him with this one or he loses interest quickly.
The iPhone—better than TV
Games are fun, but there are other important activities in my son’s life—like eating, going to school, and bedtime. Separating my son from the iPhone can sometimes be a delicate thing. The intense focus required by a game like Archibald’s Adventures makes a mid-level device snatch by mommy or daddy problematic—it’s one sure way to produce a grumpy son. Where possible I try to let my son finish a level on Archibald’s Adventures, or, if we are in a hurry, suggest that he play a game with a shorter task timeframe, like Pocket God.
Of course, outside play and other activities are also important. Our challenge is to integrate this new toy into the mix of media experiences that include Mario Cart on the Wii, streamed Netflix movies, and SpongeBob on the Cartoon Channel. In addition, we have to balance all this with some necessary physical activity, including gymnastics, tennis lessons, bicycle riding, and the still popular backyard tree climbing.
The truth is that we’d rather see our son playing an iPhone game than watching TV. Games engage the mind more and help improve mind-body coordination. In addition, it gives the parents time to finish some adult projects.