The Mommie Gamer is a semi-weekly column covering the topics that affect all mothers who game. In this I intend to look at both the dark and light sides of gaming not only from a parent's perspective, but also from a woman's.
I never knew that when I became a parent I would also become an advocate. It seems as if there are so many decisions you not only have to make, but also have to defend be it online or to friends or family. One of the decisions I struggled with for a long while was the villainization of electronic entertainment. I am the sort of person who believes experts, but when the experts tell me to never let my child see an episode of Sesame Street, never let them watch a movie or play a video game, I have to wonder at how grounded those experts are in reality.
I am a gamer, and it is only natural that I should share what I love about interactive storytelling with my child. So far my son is too young to really understand the relationship between a tap on a screen or the press of a button and an on-screen character's movement, but he has been exposed to games for the entirety of his life. Very soon he will learn the skills neccessary to play games himself, and I am eager for that day, and also dread it. I don't like the idea that I will have to defend my choice to let my son play video games in the same way I have to defend my decision to play them. My parents still think everything that has to do with gaming is evil, and that the only thing in World of Warcraft is killing. I've tried to share my love of these things with them, but they are just not interested in seeing this medium from my point of view. But as much as I really don't want to have to advocate for gaming among my friends and family, I am willing to do it.
Sometimes it's easy, as in the case of this post, because we're talking about literacy. Often times when we talk about the teaching potential of games (and we will here too, at some point) we talk about their amazing ability to teach math, science, and problem solving skills. All of these things are true, but games also teach something every child in the world need to learn: How to love reading. Games are a way for kids to interact with text in a way that they will actually enjoy. It's not homework, it's not reading, it's just a game. While there are some games that have no text at all, many games require players to reason through large passages of text in order to understand the mechanics. And there are even some games that focus on word play as their core mechanic. I thought I would take some time and introduce some of the games that focus on reading, words, and the love of the letter.
Scribblenauts started as a portable DS title that allowed players to solve puzzles by creating items and dropping them into the stage. Today it's expanded to consoles, and is available on WiiU, 3DS, and PC. Each installment of this series helps build vocabulary and imagination, since there is more than one way to solve a puzzle. Does your avatar need to reach the top of a tree? Well a LADDER would work, but so much a GIANT GIRAFFE or a ROCKET SHIP. Experimentaion is the name of the game here, and while it's not the easiest game for some types of players (namely me) it is a blast to play. The latest installment, dubbed Unmasked, features heroes and villains from famous DC Comics franchises.
This edutainment series has been around since 1986 and was one of the first games to focus on reading. Heck it even has it in the title. The game features a series of minigames that teach concepts like rhyming, word completion, and spelling, all in a cartoony format that kids adore. It's not the sort of game you would expressly called "good" and the last installment was released in 2011, so it's also old, but you can't talk about reading games without mentioning this classic.
When I was a kid Mad Libs were newsprint little flip books we passed around the classroom, filling them with scatalogical humor. These days it's gone digital, and you can find Mad Libs on all iOS devices. This is a great game to play with your kids, as you can help them see that a more varied vocabulary makes for more interesting stories. Soon they can start making stories of their own, and asking you to fill them in. Fun times will be had by all, and the kids will never guess they are learning. They will just know they can use fart as both a noun and a verb.
One of my personal favorite mobile games, Words with Monsters is a Words with Friends clone that instead plays in a single player format. As this is a Scrabble game it's not easy, so I recommend this for your older kids or teens. You follow the story of a monster slayer on his way to rescue a princess from the castle. He does this by fighting monsters in word battles along the way. The humor in this game is demented and hilarious, and there's enough challenge to keep a kid busy for hours, which probably means you're going to have to say goodbye to your Facebook wall for a while when they play.
Before I leave you, I want to take a moment to thank Grammarly. A while back they created the Promote Literacy with Grammarly initiative, and asked that bloggers take a moment to talk about the joys of literacy. It is their program that inspired this article, and it's been an interesting challenge applying the concept of literacy to gaming. I also want to thank Grammarly for making a donation to Child's Play on our behalf. If you are a blogger who would like to take part in this campaign, head on over to Grammarly and check it out.