Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Where have all the children gone?

Yesterday was a bright sunny day and I looked out of the window to see two boys, about 8 years old, playing football on the play area next to our house. It made me think about a blog I had just read online about "Angry Birds". 
     You might be wondering what the connection is - so let me explain. When we moved into the house over forty years ago we had a problem. In fine weather there was always a crowd of children playing football and footballs were regularly coming over the wall into our garden. It got so bad that we had a word with some of the parents, and the community policeman and came to an arrangement that if the same ball came over the wall three times in the same day we would confiscate it - putting in by our front door for collection the following morning.
    Perhaps I should have realized what was going to happen when about 30 years ago I had to teach a large university admissions class the elements of using a computer. Over half of them had not even used a typewriter while at the other extreme four had their own personal computers. At the end of the first year results were overall pretty satisfactory - except that the four who came with their own computers all failed. After a couple of years it seemed that we were getting a number of failures because either the student was so addicted to computer games (including writing their own) that they neglected other studies or that they were highly introverted loners with rich parents who had given them a computer to develop a marketable skill. The trouble was that in using the computer they became even more solitary and lacking in social skills. Fortunately the problem seemed to cure itself in later years - but this may have been because children showing severe computer addiction symptoms had problems earlier and so never made university entrance grades.
     I had left the university by the time the play stations came in - and was not deliberately monitoring the play space next door. However thinking back it must have been about that time that we stopped getting footballs over our wall as a regular event. I don't think we have had one over the wall in the last two or three years - and this is the first time I have seen any children playing a ball game on the play space this year.
    So back to the blog - which was entitled "Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience."  The Author, Charles L Mauro, estimates that this popular game, which can be played on mobile phones and other portable devices, is played worldwide for the equivalent of 1.2 billion hours a year.
    This makes me wonder what the total figure is for all the computer games, including multi-player online games. While I am sure that other factors are involved, it could well be that the lack of footballs in our garden is due to the advent of the computer game.  

See also my review Keyboard Junkies, originally published in the New Scientist.

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