Ok, I have to admit it, I drank the Kool-Aid. I bought my daughter one of those educational handheld games for Christmas (the Leapfrog Leapster Explorer to be specific). I should have known better. I should have known better not just because games are my thing personally and professionally, but because I was an elementary school teacher in a previous life and I know how much kids don’t find edutainment games entertaining and how little they actually educate.
Now mind you, my daughter is only 2 1/2 years old and the game that bought for her is for kids 4 and up. I looked past that because I may be biased but my kid is exceptionally bright and she’s been navigating games on the DS since she was a little over a year old. So, why you may ask would I go out and spend hard earned money to buy a device that I already thought was questionable and whose games cost roughly what DS games do (or $7.50 for lepalets, Leapfrog’s equivalent to iPhone apps)? Well, let’s just call it guilt. If you give a kid a game your contributing to the rotting of their brains, right? But if you give them a game and throw the educational tag on it you’re being a good parent. Yes, I know. As a rhetorician I should know better than to fall prey to that kind of faulty logic, but as a parent the need to cover all of my bases won out.
So now Christmas has come and gone and the “new game” has been labeled “broken” on multiple occasions by Peanut (the aforementioned brilliant toddler). After spending some time with the game I have to say that she is right! The games on the system are boring and confusing at best and just plain unplayable by most at worst. While some of the more simplistic applications tell you to specifically tap on little avatars to make them start or stop singing the more “involved” have no directions at all. And lest you think that the educational part of this task is figuring out how to achieve a goal there is also no stated goal! For instance there is a game called Flingo, now one can guess from the title that it is going to involve flinging something (but will the average pre-schooler know that?). So after figuring out how to fling my avatar for a slingshot and when to release for achieving the best distance (something that I only figured out because I have played a good number of games before that ask you to do some such task and have previously figured out that if I fling based on when the little indicator enters a certain range that I will get the best distance. It wasn’t until after I played through the “game” for the first time and failed because
I had collected 0 balloons that I figured out that there was something else that I was supposed to be doing. I played through again before I discovered that not only could I not aim my cat avatar at the balloons to collect them and that tapping on the lily pads on the water below my flying avatar would not help propel me forward in anyway. On the third play through it finally occurred to me that I had to tap the balloons as I flew past them in order to pop them (no collecting here). These are all things that I, a seasoned gamer to say the least, figured out on my own, but if I had been a pre-schooler I too would have declared it broken. At what point are educational game makers (hardware and software) going to stop trying so hard to make their games so non-gamey that they also end up making them not fun? Is it so hard to get parents to believe that just because something is fun it can’t also be educational? Pea has learned more about letters, numbers, colors, and such from games on the DS than she obviously ever will on the Leapster Explorer.
So now I find myself with a $70 paperweight. That is unless the next few games that I buy for it are any better than what we already have or I can convince the wee one that this device is a viable alternative to my iPad that she already uses for reading e-books and watching videos. Yeah, I know. “Good luck with that!”