Monday, April 14, 2014

How Video Games Could Teach My Kid to Walk

Dear Video Game Developers,

Wanna do something really cool and meaningful? Develop a game system that teaches my kid how to walk.

I'm not kidding.

I can clearly see in my mind a long roll-out pad for the Wii. You place the child on it and he gets certain rewards for each teeny, tiny new milestone. Study child development and see how certain leg movements are the building blocks for crawling and standing. You could have whole levels devoted to pelvic movements. The sky's the limit.

See, when typical babies are hanging out all day, they are constantly experimenting with different movements and stumble across the rewards and penalties for such movements. No baby has ever thought: "I'm going to learn how to walk." They just play around with their body until it does what it was designed to do.

The problem I'm finding as my son approaches his fourth birthday is that motivating him to roll over and crawl is immensely difficult. He is no longer a baby who is easily rewarded with something shiny — he needs a much bigger stimulus.

There is not a lot he won't do for the iPad though. He has learned a lot about sitting and hand-eye coordination by playing it — not because he is "working on" those skills, but because it is what's needed to reach his goal in the game. This is precisely what babies do when they take those first steps. They are not thinking: "I'm going to put one foot in front of the other." They are thinking: "I want to be closer to mama." Walking is simply a means of achieving their primary goal.

I know that "child development" and "video games" tend to be at odds in our culture, but I think that's precisely because they have a remarkable ability to tap into neuroplasticity. This can be bad if you are using video games to imprint violence and objectification of women, but you could also use them to quickly and effectively teach useful skills.

Take for example this woman. She is a video game developer who suffered severe depression after a concussion and the only way she found to get out of it was to create a video-game-based reward system for taking the small real-world steps to improve her life.





I know from friends with kids who have cerebral palsy but can ambulate that games on the Wii have dramatically improved these children's coordination and balance. But so far there is nothing like that for kids who are still on the floor.

We still try with Malachi's walker. We play a dance game on the X-box 360 Kinect, but he isn't really affecting what's going on and the walker imposes bizarre rules of gravity. One of Malachi's absolute favorite outings used to be going to the dance pad at a nearby mall. Look how fast he goes in his walker to get to it!




Malachi running to the dance pad! from Shasta Kearns Moore on Vimeo.


Unfortunately that was several months ago and the dance pad is now decommissioned. It was a very sad day indeed for Malachi when we found that out. 

But he remains strongly motivated by video games. His new favorite meal is Super Mario-shapes chicken noodle soup, but he rarely ate pasta before that. 

I can't imagine my kid is the only one. So, please, video game developers. If you wanna do something amazing, develop a game that helps motivate older children with developmental disabilities — several million individuals worldwide — to practice the same developmental steps that typical babies go through. I know at least one little boy who would really get into it. 

Jessie Kirk Photography



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Looking for a meaningful gift? Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White is a beautiful and insightful board book available here. All profits go towards my son's medical needs. 


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