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June 09, 2004

The Punch and Kick Game

Anyone who thinks video game playing leads to sedentary children has never seen Athena play video games. She gets even more jiggy with it when you haul out the EyeToy.

The game she's playing here is Virtua Fighter 4, and of course one may reasonably question the wisdom of letting a five year old play a game in which the object is to punch and kick one's opponent into dazed submission. But our experience with Athena has been that she can handle it. She understands the difference between a video game and real life, and that playing a game with punching and kicking does not mean one can punch and kick in the real life. We confirm this with her on a regular basis: "You know, honey, that you can't actually punch and kick people in real life," I'll say. "Yes, daddy, I know," she'll say, and then roll her eyes at the thought that I consider her too stupid to have remembered this little fact for the fourteen thousandth time. Also, the game isn't actually bloody, or anything: No ripping out of people's spines. In all, she's handled the game/reality dichotomy just fine, so we're okay with her playing it.

Ironically, I suspect her game playing may have actually helped her when she did her kindergarten assessment tests, which the Bradford schools have each incoming kid do so they can figure out how to tailor their programs for the next year. If I recall correctly, one category related to visual-motor skills, i.e., what we called hand-eye coordination back in the day. Athena did pretty well across the board, but she aced this particular category. Some of this this is due to the fact she and I play catch on a frequent basis, but I suspect that some of it due to her ability to mash buttons in combination to kick some pixellated opponent out of the ring. There are worse things.

Not that I'm expecting video games to be an integrated part of her education (well, the ones that are explicitly educational, perhaps. Just not the ones where she beats the heck out of someone). One thing I do know -- and call me old-fashioned here -- is that if I didn't feel she's made sufficient progress in other areas, I probably wouldn't be as relaxed as I am on the video game front. Hand-eye coordination is all very nice, but being able to read is a little more important. Without the latter, I doubt I'd let her spend a whole of time on the video games.

And I think that's fair: Learn to read, and in addition to experiencing the joys of literacy, you also get to experience the joys of virtual punching and kicking. And, tangentially, of hopping up and down as you do it.

Athena doesn't do much hopping while reading. That's probably just as well.

Posted by john at June 9, 2004 10:22 AM

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