By Scott Rigdon

I find that, as a 40-something Gamer, parents’ eyes quickly glaze over when I start talking about my gaming prowess, or for that matter, the gaming accomplishments of my children. I’m here to tell you that if you choose your games wisely, they could school your children for a very bright future in technology. In fact, I’m a little disappointed that Little Big Planet 2 hasn’t made its way into STEM programs yet. Undoubtedly, it, or something like it, one day will.

It all started in 2009, when Santa brought us a Playstation 3. Any child (or adult of any age) who can hold a video game controller can quickly learn to play Little Big Planet. Santa brought us that game because it’s a fun, family-friendly game where up to 4 players can play cooperatively. You start in training levels, and work your way all the way through the story, at which point you are tossed into the world of ‘Create Mode’. This is where your child’s Programmer Preschooling begins.

My son spends most of his video game time creating. His buddies join him over the Internet, and they can literally pop into his blank imagination canvas and join his creating, or do their own nearby. Rocket powered flying cream soda can? Yep. Giant titanium fighting Tyrannosaurus Rex robot that you control from a recliner on his head? Yeah I’ve seen that too. Anything your kid can dream up, he or she can create. Even the creation process is self-taught, with clear tutorials and easy to follow examples. You would be truly amazed at the things children are creating these days, all as a hobby they enjoy.

Here’s the good part… in that process of self-teaching, following instructions, and exploring the creation tools, he also accidentally learned to program. And/or gates, timers, even complex circuit boards that he programs to perform artificially intelligent operations. Literally all packaged up neatly in a child’s toy, and you can choose your favorite sombrero or frying pan to wear all the while. Looking fabulous is critical to the creation process!

This has led him to learn how to operate other software programs. He has toyed with animation software, and as I watch him learn that, I can see that he has a comfort level with it because the menus and the thought process are exactly the same as what he learned in Little Big Planet Create Mode. He’s not the least bit intimidated by a high end software program- he’s been working with them, for fun, since he was 9 years old.

I rarely hear video games getting praise. Truly, many of them are mindless violence or otherwise things that will teach very little that will help a child succeed in the future. Even in our case, where I know my son is learning valuable skills, I have to limit his time or he can get completely lost in there. If you take the time to learn and play some of the creation games out there, you can find yourself in a win/win situation.

How do you know which games are good and which are bad? You have to play them. I know, you don’t have the time or the desire! Invest at least a little in it just as you would gymnastics or soccer. You’ll also find that, if shown the proper respect, Gamers are a good lot, and will be happy to guide you. Just go to any nearby video game store and talk to the employees. Admit that you’re a ‘noob’, and that you’re there to find a game that offers the ability to create. They’ll tell you what your options are, and from there you have to learn a little too. If you play Little Big Planet 2 with your kids and you don’t have fun doing so, you don’t have a soul! It’s good family time, and there are a lot of other good family games out there. You just have to do the homework to find the right ones.

As with all things in life, you also have to be cautious! The average gaming console has the ability to private message (email), voice chat (phone call), and video call! If you hand your kid a PS3 with all the trimmings, you’re also handing them the ability to video call people all over the planet. You can monitor and even block these tools, but you have to learn to use them first. Your kids will learn to use them whether you do or not!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to test-pilot a flying shark, and I hear the exploding cows are thick this time of day…

Cheers from the ThreeFiveZero Gamers

About Scott: “I am a single parent who has been living in Winston-Salem for nearly a decade now. I have a son in middle school and a daughter finishing up elementary school. Being a single dad in the ‘old south’ presents some challenges, some opportunities, and amid it all, no end of things to write about! We have made North Carolina our home, and it is one my kids already look on fondly. Many more good years ahead!”

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