kids, video games and creativity

to game or not to game?

To the uninterested, gaming can seem like a loafer’s chore, a way for parents to escape spending valuable time with their own children. While many agree that there is a place for a bit of peace and quiet in the home (or car), even if it comes from creating distractions with a screen, there is still much social stigma reserved for kids who play video games often and the parents who enable them. Like anything else , balance is key: not just balance in the time spent at other activities but also in the content of the games played.

Early Start

Creativity and imagination are key soft skills that are best acquired at a young age. Being outdoors can without a doubt create a solid base for adapting to our surroundings as we've met them but in order to change our environment we must look within. Traditionally, story telling, drama, animated films, comic books, and cartoons have been the most useful mediums for cultivating the imaginative minds of our future innovators. I am proof that video games combine all of those attributes in the most interactive way possible.

O'G games

From Tetris on Brick Games, to Duck Hunt on NES. From International Superstar Soccer on Sega Mega Drive, Hugo on Gameboy, then Spiderman 2 on Gameboy Advance. From Tekken on PlayStation, to Devil May Cry 3 on PlayStation 2.

It seems like growing up all I did was sit in front of a screen of dancing pixels and get lost in countless adventures… adventures I shared with friends. Growing up in Northern Nigeria, kids in my neighborhood didn’t have many surroundings to explore for entertainment; though we didn’t know it at the time, we needed an escape. All we had were our imaginations and each other to keep us company, we created a bond that grew stronger as we explored new video games together.

I remember we would all dash to our friend’s house right after school to take turns playing or just enjoy watching friends try to beat their personal best.

Frankly we took little or no breaks whatsoever and played until it got dark, or power supply was interrupted; by the way, this was common place where I grew up and still is. We’d traditionally have regular power supply for a cumulative of about 12 hours a day, the other portion of the day was power by an external power generator for those who could afford to have one. Less I digress, losing power frequently was a brutal set back as our gaming progress wasn’t always backed up on a memory card.

In hind sight it served as a much needed non parental content consumption control as we would only go out to play soccer or hide and seek- like games when there was no power, ditching that or similar physical activity was never a tough choice for us:  we would hustle back in a cluster around a screen as soon as power was restored.

It was awesome. In fact, this was where I first started honing the power of my subconscious; often while I slept I had dreams in which my subconscious mind would come up with actionable solutions to difficult stages in the games we played earlier.

Clutter Treasure

Now if you stepped into my room, you’d find broken gadgets, wires, a table top messy with electronics and screws. Basically stuff laying around everywhere. You’d think they’re worthless but to me they’re not. Each piece of a broken controller or the board of a PC would eventually be fixed as soon as I figured it out, or used to fix something else that would eventually need fixing.

I wasn’t always like this though. My love for electronics came from growing up in a time of being disappointed when one of the only two game controllers stopped working and knowing without a doubt that we simply couldn’t afford to buy another, or  perhaps it was from the numerous instances when the power adapter overheated and burnt out it’s transformer, or the cartridge just didn’t work any longer. I remember I’d tell myself “well, since we can’t buy another one and this one is useless right now, there’s no harm in opening it up and tinkering with it”. And I did. A lot.

I ended up causing more damage at first, but I learned a few things along the way… like connecting output wires of an adapter directly to power will fry your console. 220V isn’t 12V after all. With time, I started fixing things. Game Controllers, adapters and even a few SEGA consoles. Soon friends with faulty video game controllers or connectors came around for help and I patched them up the best I could with tape and crazy glue (I didn’t know how to work a soldering iron back then) and got them working, just so we’d have fun playing video games.

Soon I was taking apart the VCR to see how the VCR head works (the thing keeps getting dirty so I might as well understand how that happens). Then I got to opening them up to clean them instead of using the cassette tape for cleaning the head (I always thought they were rip offs anyway). The same goes for  VCD players and lenses. I was in middle school back then when I learned that the secret is, when you have little, you’ll learn to make the most of what’s available and have no choice but to fix what’s broken  instead of wishing new one’s into existence.

Physics, computing and gaming 101

Fast forward a few years. After high school, I had my sights set on Computer Engineering, but in a sweet twist of fate, I ended up towing the path to Physics.  Years of playing video games can help you acquire skills in a replicable low stakes environment and help you gauge and improve your emotional & psychological response to high stress and failure scenarios. As a physicist I use those skills in recognizing patterns, solving puzzles, concentration, nonlinear streams of thought, cognitive flexibility and memory while. To top it all off, I learned how to solder. The Fix-it-Felix in me absolutely leveled up after this. Now I study computational physics, I’m a music producer (applying the physics of audio dynamics to music), a sound engineer (fixing earphones and headphones, up to 2000W concert speakers), and just in general a maker of stuff. It’s even contagious, a little while back I discovered my younger sister and brother had made a battery powered toy scooter using stuff they nicked from my rubble. The electric motors was from the vibrators in some wrecked Sony dual-shock controllers.

Looking back, I would say who I am right now is a result of thousands of hours of gameplay. Someone I admire and respect  professionally once told me that my general approach to solving problems is terrifying because, according to him, I look for permanent solutions. Which makes sense. If it isn’t permanent, it isn’t a solution. That’s basically gaming 101

Let's dive in- How to pick the best games for your kid's development

Just as books have genres, so do video games and not all genres are made equally beneficial to development of a child’s brain. For example playing strategy games of a higher complexity index  could improve cognitive skills like working memory and reasoning. The ability to quickly gather   information from one’s surrounding to  facilitate prompt decision making while remaining alert is a coveted soft skill in today’s world of rapid automation. Skills like those described above are put the test in life like games like flight simulator.  

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“I am me because I picked up a controller. I wonder what would have happened if I picked up a deck of cards or a chess board instead?”

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