I read an article in my local paper this weekend about computerized role playing games, games designed for pre-schoolers, tweens and teens. An exponential growth in membership has been reported over the past two years. Kids socialize, play educational games and games of strategy, earn and manage their own virtual money and maneuver various geographical environments while playing these games. Thus, basic mathematical and grammatical concepts, reading and critical thinking skills are all cultivated. My son, his friends, and many of my child clients are members of these sites. I have spent numerous hours watching them. I was hesitant to embrace this form of play at first. I was afraid that these children might lose their innate creativity or imagination as a result of this activity. What I found instead, was that these environments are richly imaginative and encourage children to be creative and collaborative. These computer programs possess many of the same qualities a good book or board game does.
I’ve had to carefully sort out what, for me, is legitimate concern and what is merely discomfort and resistance of the new. I believe that play time spent in exclusively a virtual reality, without balancing other forms of play, is unhealthy. But I would feel the same way about a child who feverishly and incessantly played board games or read 24/7. I want my son to spend time playing basketball, getting some sunshine and playing with his “real” friends. That being said, I love the fact that he can play backgammon or scrabble with someone in Sweden or Australia. I am thrilled that he is getting an opportunity to play and barter with currency in ways that are so realistic. I am confident he will benefit from these experiences when he is managing his own money someday. I believe we as parents need to embrace the technological advances that provide our children the opportunity to play 21st century style. A variety of life experiences today when they are young, help an interesting and dynamic adult emerge later.