PAX East was right in our backyard this year, so we made sure to soak in all the gaming goodness there over the weekend.  Keith, Ryan, Renee, Hannah, Taryn, Matt and Naomi all went and visited various booths, panels, and showcases.  Keith was a huge fan of the Indie Megabooth at PAX.  It was so inspiring to see other indie game developers in the mix of what seemed like mostly a big name game convention.

There were also lots of people dressed in costumes!

Naomi represented FableVision Studios on a panel about Gaming and Parenting called "How Young is Too Young".  Here's her recap:

NAOMI: I was really excited to represent FableVision Studios as a Creative Strategist and also as a parent of a young (19 months) media consumer.  The panel was a power-packed group of power-thinkers and kids' media creators, including:

Dave Schlafman: Creative Director, CloudKid Eric Hardman: Independent Game Designer Traci Lawson: Game Designer, Arkadium Scott Traylor: Chief KID, 360Kid Dave McMahon: Art Director, 360Kid Scot Osterweil: Creative Director, MIT Education Arcade Jason Wiser: Creative Director, Yaya Play

We tackled a wide range of subject matter, such as the effects of video game violence on kids, creative expression tools, and distinguishing between a game and a toy.

Scott Traylor, of 360Kid, made a great point (originally from a talk by Daren Carstens at Dust or Magic 2011) about the need for more creative expression tools for kids in the app marketplace.  As he said, there is no national crisis of kids not knowing their colors, shapes, letter and numbers.  Unfortunately, most of the top "educational" apps in the app store for kids right now are apps that "teach" just that. Everyone on the panel agreed that as game developers, we should be more inventive about the kind of apps we create for kids.  I mentioned DrawSomething as a great creative tool that spans all ages.  I'm also proud of FableVision's upcoming summer release of Animation-ish on the iPad, a really incredible self-expression tool!

Scot Osterweil, of the MIT Education Arcade, and a longtime FableVision Studios collaborator, made the point that a more pressing crisis is kids not getting enough open-ended fully embodied play; i.e. running around outside.  With so many games, apps, shows and screens everywhere, parents and caregivers have an even greater responsibility than ever before to make sure there is a balance in kids' life between the games on screens and the games in the real world.  That's one of the reasons we're so excited about FableVision Studios and the Nationial Wildlife Federation's collaboration on the Raiders of the Lost Aardvark App.  It's a great, immersive interactive experience, and it also encourages the user to go out and experience the real nature around them and to develop a greater appreciation for the animals all around them--outside the screen.

One of the main points that I brought to the panel was the question of what actually defines a game.  My 19-month-old makes no distinction between a simple interactive experience on the iPad like making and popping bubbles or an interactive e-book like Monster at the End of the Book.  But older kids have a more clearly defined idea about what game means--something with rules, levels, rewards, etc. It's very hard to make sweeping generalizations about whether games are good or bad for kids without knowing exactly what we define as a game.  Scot O. suggested that some interactive experiences on the iPad are more like a toy in that the User brings his/her own experiences and thoughts to the activity, whereas a game provides the context and rules for the user to follow. I also challenged the idea that a game had to be good or bad for kids.  As with all new technology, we're quick to be afraid without assessing the pros and cons.  And as with every decision as a parent, finding balance with media and outdoor play and other enriching experiences is a constant challenge.

The other main point I made that I was hoping the audience would take away was about the importance of the parent and caregiver talking to their kids and with their kids about the media they are consuming--everything from apps to television to games to movies to books.  It's the best way to know what they're using, playing, whether they like it, what they're learning from it and whether any of it is affecting them in a way that you, as a parent, educator or caregiver, may want to intervene.  Even the most well meaning media and games may make a kid scared or worried or uncomfortable. (I have a friend who recently told me her kid was afraid of Clifford the Big Red Dog because he was so big!) Parents are often the best judges of what is "good" and "bad" for their kids, and figuring out the appropriate balance of games and the content of the games is something that the parent and child should figure out together.

Thanks to Jason Wiser from YaYa Play for bringing together this great group!  Looking forward to many more chances to slice and dice the goings-on in the world of games and kids.