19/06/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 06:59 BST

Video Game Culture and Play

As a video games designer and father of three I have an inherent interest in the perceived effects that playing video games can have on my kids.

Public interest, and therefore much of the research done in this area, tends to focus on the effects of playing violent video games; on whether one can spend too much time on screens or the idea that playing certain types of games can improve motor skills and brain function.

My interest however has been in how the video games they love to play are being translated into both their physical play and they way in which they communicate.

Despite the parameters we put in place at home, and despite the archaic primary school they go to with less technology than my grandparents' house, video games are a vibrant and significant part of our children's culture and mindset in every aspect of their lives.

There are benefits for children in playing games where proficiency in different tasks is simply how you progress - a reward in and of itself. But in a broader sense, gaming can help development, thinking and reasoning in far-reaching ways. In particular I have been taken by the developments in my children's skills in communicating, creating, and collaborating in their physical play.

Both my sons love to play Minecraft, an open world game that lets players create and play through their own worlds. But recently, they've taken it offline, as it were. They've gathered all the blocks in the house - from the wooden blocks they played with as infants and Lego, to both ours and our neighbours' Jenga sest, and began to create their own worlds on the living room floor.


This engagement is more than the play encouraged by building toys such as Lego and Meccano, in which creation of discrete items is often the aim in itself. Minecraft has created a language of play for them, in which they make the world, its rules, and anything is possible.

Every day now, on the floor of our living room, environments are created, objectives are agreed and Lego men find themselves down holes, being chased by monsters, and playing out the story the boys are co-creating as they go. As in a video game, characters 're-spawn' if they find an unfortunate end and so the story continues. There are less negative outcomes, but instead developments in the story encouraged by the open-ended nature of Minecraft.

They even incorporate the use of dice to help determine outcomes. The 'chance' aspect of the roll of the die not only helps to resolve potential conflict between my children's ideas of how something should be played out but it also provides a sense of drama by not knowing which way the story will go - again something they have learned can be hugely entertaining from playing video games.

These observations resonate with more and more initiatives popping up in children's public and educational spaces. Playgrounds without fixed equipment such as slides and without rules are being trialled in Wales and New Zealand. I'll never think of Jenga the same way again.