Computer-supported intergenerational play

Photograph by James Woodson

In their article Can Videogames Unite Generations in Learning, Alan Gershenfeld and Michael Levine explore the emergence and benefits of intergenerational gameplay.  I copy and paste and edit, thus:

Another recent research report developed by the National Science Foundation-funded LIFE Center…found, among other things, that “joint media engagement is often initiated by children rather than parents.”

“Intergenerational” doesn’t just mean a parent and child, though. Another effort…revealed that preschool youngsters who read books together with their grandparents via a richly designed e-book delivered during a video conference call were more engaged in reading and more likely to spend additional time in early literacy experiences than children who spoke with grandparents via telephone.

Compelling intergenerational gameplay may also help demystify the medium for skeptical parents by helping them tell the difference between when their children are in a very productive “flow” state and when they are zoning out and in digital overload…

The more parents explore games with their kids, the more they will be equipped to seek out ones that provide engaging learning experience…Maybe then video games will be as influential (in a good way) as Sesame Street has been for the past three generations.

Intergenerational play has been a focus of mine for many years. (See, for example, my article on Playing With Children) I’ve had some wonderful experiences playing with my grands. But I think we need to be very careful not to lay too much of the responsibility on the designers of games. Especially computer games. Maybe we’ll find more connections once the computer is better integrated with other aspects of our physical reality. Maybe Sifteo is a better paradigm. Or the Musical Embrace game. Or iPad games like Fingle, or iPod games like Ringgg.

For a lot of us intergenerational types, even with all the technology, the bandwidth is just to narrow to support the wide range of differences in intellect and skill and play preferences. We need the whole outdoors to find room enough and breadth enough to build a connection deep enough. A picnic. A project. A trampoline. Maybe a few passing clouds. Maybe a good set of blocks or markers. Maybe a bed big enough to wrestle on and snuggle in.

1 Comment

  1. Lily on September 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

    So here’s the first thing I noticed. The study compares interacting with an e-book on a video conference to talking on the phone. Perhaps it’s not the e-book (as well designed as it may be) that is the difference here, but the visual contact. I suspect that if both grand and grandbaby had the same copies of any book (you know, made out of paper with pages to turn) and were on skype or some other video conference method, they would find similar results as those of the “richly designed e-book”.

    Oh and there is always baking the cake that may or may not turn out, but always includes the sticky beaters to lick.

    Love and laughter,

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