Am I Giving My 6-Year-Old Video Game Drugs?

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Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was my first attempt to play a video game with Wyatt. He would climb onto my lap and I would give him charge over a few buttons. We’d press on, together, through the colorful lands of Skylands, father and son.

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The toys to life market has exploded since the original Skylanders debuted. Disney has followed suite with their own Disney Infinity and LEGO with LEGO Dimensions. The race for your nostalgic memories blended together with basic compulsive behaviors is on.

Skylanders: Superchargers, Disney Infinity, and LEGO Dimensions are not cheap. Each brand forces you to buy a base set, at prices ranging from $75 to $100. If you want to go beyond the initial starter pack characters, prepare to pay $15 per character. Want to play, I mean “unlock” more of the game levels you’ve already bought? The ransom price will be $30 per expansion. Good times for kids like Veruca Salt; bad times for a child who only gets a video game on their birthday.

As a parent, I wonder at what I have introduced my son to. Am I no better than a drug dealer, pushing the latest video game with expensive add-ons? What about the morality and business model of a developer who is double-dipping? Buy the initial game for x-amount and then pay more to play the rest. Is this fair?

Take LEGO Dimensions for instance. The main game, according to some reviews, is 12 hours in length. Which is not a bad amount of gameplay for $100, at $8/hour. But, any of the past LEGO games have been whole. Yes, they have lacked an accompanied physical LEGO set, but they have been fully unlocked. Interested in Portal themed levels, Mr. Nerd? That will be $30 please. Content that is already on disc, waiting to be saved.

In our brave new world of toys to life, I wonder how long consumers will stand for buying the same product 5-6 times. On a positive note, Skylanders: Superchargers only requires four vehicles to experience the game.  None of the content gated to specific types of figures, as it has been in the past. A step in the right direction.

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But who am I kidding? I can rant and rave about pricing structures till the end of this blog. Will LEGO Dimensions make my Christmas list? OH YEAH! I can’t pass up playing with Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle. No matter the cost, playing this game with Wyatt will be awesome. LEGO told me so.

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:14 (NIV)

Do Video Game Developers Have No Regards For Children?

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My son and I are gripping our controllers, leading our small group of Avengers to victory. But wait, even though the screen is split, the onscreen action blinds us both to our positions in-game. Lego Marvel’s Avengers fails to provide a visual indicator to note where ones character is on screen. There is no “player one” or “player two” designation. The game’s camera pulls too far out of the action for the player to be able to follow their hero.

I am frustrated; my six year old son, even more so.

Lego AvengersThe Lego games have always frustrated me. There is so much potential with the Lego properties, squandered in the name of shoddy controls and split screen mode. What frustrates me more, as with Disney Infinity, is that developers market this half-assed game design to children. We love playing videogames together. My son is able to hold his own in Guacamelee. His skills increase every time we sit down and play. But Lego games block our fun together.

I would like to say that videogame developers hate children. But that isn’t true. Videogame developers lack a certain awareness of how kids play.

Kids games need to:

  • Provide clear visual cues
  • Make it easy for players to find themselves: a simple portrait of a superhero, in the top right corner of the screen, doesn’t cut it. For a great example, check out Diablo 3.
  • Offer different camera distance so that players can see the action
  • Give players control over the environment that engages motor-skill and muscle-memory

My son and I will probably continue to play Lego Marvel’s Avengers. I just wish it was more finely-tuned to my son’s early skill levels.