The Kids are all right
The kids are all right
Games aren’t evil?
Brendan Caldwell discovers how games can be beneficial for kids.
THERE’S A tall man in the marquee, down at Market Square. He wears a hat, a guitar on his back. It’s crowded inside the tent but he gets straight to the centre of things. To his right, indie developers stand at stalls, nervously observing potential players. To his left, eager guests wait to play SpyParty. It’s a festival. GameCity Festival in Nottingham to be exact. And the tall man with the hat and the guitar is about to become the tall man with the hat and the guitar and the very loud voice.
Conversations die. Necks swivel. Someone shouts “Oh, shut up”. A pair of stewards rock up and ask the man to come outside. Not the usual type of steward, mind, with fingers like Bratwurst and a brain like a nailboard. Most of these stewards are just students, earning some extra cash via helpfulness. Maybe that’s why they travel in pairs. The tall man assents and leaves with them. His very loud voice follows him out.
“Christmas is about Christ!” he shouts. Then he breaks it down for us. “Christ! Mass!”
His words filter through the tent, past a lot of shaking heads. In the far corner, a couple of kids are being taught how to play LEGO Universe. Games destroy children’s minds. Dozens of children scramble for first place in a Wacky Races style aeroplane game on a giant projector. They are poisonous. Toddlers sit at a table, drawing in crayon what they’d do if they could make a game, adding glittery pictures to “the idea bucket”. These games are poisonous to children’s minds.
At the end of the festival Adam Saltsman, the creator of Canabalt, and Rebecca Mayes, musical gamer, will have developed a flash game based on all the children’s ideas and using their original artwork. It will be a game about a lost thought making its way home, avoiding tall monsters.
“I think it went well,” Adam will say. “I’m pretty happy with it.”
“It’s a hard thing. The obvious constraint was we can’t make ninety different games. We probably could have. There’s, like, enough stuff. There’s enough raw awesome, weird ideas in there. I easily could have pursued like ten different games but the thing that felt kind of interesting or felt like it was the right thing to do was just to make something where we could put in all of their stuff.
“Got pretty close. Probably in a week or something I’ll put in the other thirty or forty monsters that are still missing. We ran out of time.”
The finished game uses 110 drawings of nasty things as enemies and one of 34 different pleasant drawings as the player’s character. It’s a simple game, developed in 8 hours. But the concept was a child’s – make a game about a lost thought trying to make its way back. So, games destroy children’s minds. Yet here was a game about the sanctity of thought. About safety. About escape.
The contradiction was not lost on the organisers of GameCity Festival. This was simply an isolated, lonesome act of disapproval from one outspoken person. When regular guest of Nottingham and designer of Katamari Damacy Keita Takahashi got on the stage to show the city his designs for a children’s playground, his panel was accompanied by a Nottingham Council officer, there to be the voice of reason to some of the developer’s more ambitious creations. Who couldn’t help but think then about the bizarre, generalising cry of alarm that went up in the Market Square tent? Keita’s designs are symbolic of the childcare conundrum – how will our children have fun, if they are thus neutralised by health and safety officials, bubble-wrapped to the point of sedation?
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