Game Consoles

The kids are bored and you’ve finally conceded to their constant demands to buy a gaming console, but which one to choose? We take you through the options.

Psssst! Don’t tell the children, but when we were growing up, we also had video games (sometimes no more challenging than shooting at numbers that add up to 10). We too negotiated time, pleaded for new games and used the “educational” argument with Nana (the game in which you add up to 10).

educational?

video games are ideal teachers: fun, interactive, offering instant achievement. They improve hand-eye coordination. They teach problem solving, persistence, pattern recognition, inductive reasoning, spatial manipulation, quick thinking, cooperation, geography, number skills and general knowledge. They can also teach to shoot at everything.

A parent of primary-aged children elaborates: “The advertising often insists these are educational games and, in the heat of the moment, they do look wonderfully educational. But you have to ask, educational compared to what? A book? A bike ride? Building Lego? Playing a board game? I often wonder: what do my kids miss out on while playing an Xbox game?”

addictive

Another warning concerns the addictive nature of video games, for children aged 3 to ... 103. “Today’s games are so beautiful, they practically beg you to play,” says a mother of preschoolers. “If we had a PlayStation, the children would forget how to run, I’d forget to cook and my partner would have another excuse not to mow the lawn.” The good news is that every console comes with Parental Controls which you can set to dictate what games can be played and when.

quality time

Wii Aerobics, Wii Yoga, Wii Balance and, of course, Wii Sports are all ways to get off the couch and do something active as a family. Bonus: fathers who don’t know how to
spend time with their children may find playing video games together to be “their thing”.

games

Wii specialises in multi-player family games, including Wii Sports (tennis, baseball, golf, boxing, bowling). Most available games, however, work on more than one console. Young children’s selection includes Dora The Explorer, Bob The Builder, Shrek. Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones are perfect for school children and non-competitive cooperative play. They are rated “10 years plus” but the low-level violence is abstract (Lego figures shooting Lego figures) and only offensive if you object to guns in principle. One of the coolest teenage games is The Sims, where you create and control complete characters in their simulated world. Role-playing and war games (often violent) are also popular.

how much time?

the rules will differ for every household, but generally the younger the child, the shorter the gaming period. Says a work-from-home dad: “The 5-year-old only plays in 30-minute stretches and, at most, three times a week as a special treat. Because the Wii is very physical and hand-eye coordination based, the 2-year-old twins don’t get to play.”

Nevertheless, some games are designed for preschoolers, teaching them to drag and click. Show the console to a 3-year old and before you know it, she’ll navigate to her favourite game, play it, print it and probably email the results to the world. 5-year-olds can usually handle 30 minutes of playtime before they lose their patience with the controls. An hour seems to be a limit for 7-year-olds when playing cooperative games such as Lego Indiana Jones, any longer and they get frustrated. 10-year-olds, however, can spend several hours working together in multi-player games. Teenagers, unchecked, will live there. To prevent addiction, insist on a balance between video games and slower-thinking activities such as reading, art, swimming. A good rule too is no meals at the game console.

Gaming consoles

Xbox

•   The graphics and sound are superb.
•   Games can be played in high-def if you have an HDTV.
•   Free content and strong online gaming network on Xbox Live.
•   The 360 model is backwards- compatible with a large selection of games (you can play older games on it).
•   It can connect to your digital camera, MP3 player and other devices.
•   Internet browsing tricky.
•   No built-in Wi-Fi or Blu-ray capability.
•   Microsoft Kinect Motion Sensor Launches November 2010, promising futurists interaction, voice control and full-body immersion in sports.

PlayStation 3

•   Bluetooth supports up to 7 players at a time.
•   Free TV On Demand.
•   Internet browsing.
•   Blu-Ray disc player capable of playing big, graphics-rich games.
•   Top display and audio.
•   High definition graphics available.
•   Motion sensing system can be bought separately.
•   Not compatible with some PS2 models.
•   Fewer games available than for the Xbox.
•   Weaker online gaming network (free).
•   PlayStation Move, a high definition motion control gaming experience, will be launching mid-September.

Wii

•   More interactive than the other two.
•   Physical activity games like Wii Sports, where you move your whole body.
•   Compatible with Nintendo.
•   Extra hardware needed to surf the web.
•   The graphics are not as impressive.
•   Online gaming (free) is cumbersome.
•   No CD or DVD playback.
•   The add-ons cost extra.

Video games are ideal teachers: fun, interactive, offering instant achievement. They improve hand-eye coordination.

Top tips

before you buy a game

  • Read the reviews.
  • Evaluate the game’s play value. Will it keep the child’s interest? Will they still enjoy it in two years’ time?
  • Check the Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings (E = For Everyone, E10 = Everyone 10 And Older, T = Teen).

what researchers say

  • In the USA, girls play an average of one hour a day while boys average two hours. Preschoolers play 30 minutes a day. This is in addition to watching TV for 3.5 hours a day.
  • Video gamers suffer worse oral hygiene problems, because of their choice of snacks while playing.
  • Violence is rewarded in the gaming world. Shooting games may lead to aggressive behaviour in real life.
  • Video games are harmless for the vast majority of kids, harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality problems.

what parents say

  • “Something to keep them out of trouble on a wet weekend.”
  • “Want instant obedience? Threaten to put the Xbox in timeout.”
  • “I find it to be good quality time with my son. He doesn’t always win so he’s learning about fair play and that you don’t always win in life.”
  • “I’ve seen a marked increase in hand-eye coordination.”
  • “His teacher commented on his excellent mathematical skills, partly I’m sure to the number-games he plays.”
  • “If you’re wondering Xbox or  PlayStation, buy what your friends have.”
  • “Why a console? The PC runs the same games.”
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