They are everywhere. Kids holding iPhones, Android phones, non-Android phones, iPads and tablets while strolling around the mall. Generally I don’t object to phone or tablet gaming because I believe they are great new gaming frontiers to be explored. I don’t mind kids using them either, especially since there are many apps that help with their cognitive development.
But when you’re shopping this holiday for a nifty gadget to give your inaanaks, if the entirety of the reason to get your 8-year old nephew or niece an iPad is so he can play with it, please take a moment to consider why you should be getting them a games console instead.
Note: I am presuming you want to get it for the kid with gaming in mind.
1. Price point
A phone/tablet can cost you astronomic figures ranging to Php90,000 at its peak while the cheapest decent tablet can eat up at least Php8,000. That’s without any assurance that the tablet will run smoothly and function as expected or run the games the kid would want to play. You’d also have to go through catalogues and check specification options, optimizations and a whole lot of stuff, or just settle for Php40,000 iPads.
A handheld console can range to as much as Php13,000 for a Nintendo 3DSxl limited edition The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds edition up to as little as Php 5000 for the Nintendo 2DS. Oh, the Playstation Vita is around Php 9000 and that’s considering the latest releases of handhelds. Playstation Portables (PSP) can go for as little as Php 3,500 and the same goes for Nintendo DSi. After determining which brand and model you want to get, there is little to worry about specs, compatibility and software as consoles are the easiest to plug-and-play. Very seldom will you need to worry about games running the way they should on your consoles or hardware specs not performing. The price range is narrower and you don’t lose much by getting a lower priced one since the 2DS is a pretty strong console itself.
2. Quality of games
Most parents or people who opt for mobile devices for their kids always reason out that the platform is more suited to kids because you can simply download games. I agree, you can download games for tablets and phones, but what they fail to consider is the quality of those games.
The best games on mobile are re-hashes of popular console games, one of the most popular being Minecraft which has been on PC for a long time already. At their best, mobile games are swipe-by-the-number games, well-made Skinner-boxes and limited by the medium they are played in. I’m all for exploration of the new platform, but right now, you just have to admit that the mobile gaming scene is narrow and limited in its ability.
Handheld consoles carry titles that have been on brew for generations. The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Sword Art Online, Super Mario just to name a few titles that are best played with physical buttons and on their proper platforms cannot be played on mobile devices without giving up a huge chunk of the experience. With the 3DS and Vita both having touch screen abilities, mobile games are more easily ported to them with little draw back so playing Angry Birds on either of them is not a problem at all. The same cannot be said when attempting to play Super Mario Bros. even on the best of mobile emulators.
One of the biggest aspects of mobile gaming is the social gaming experience. Many if not all mobile games require you to connect with a friend or at least reward you for connecting with friends one way or another. Unfortunately despite what it might seem like, the social connectivity is rather limited. All you really do is hook it up to your Facebook account and it automatically connects with Facebook friends with the same games or starts annoying those who don’t. With poorly coded games, Facebook friends end up as player numbers and people aren’t really sure who are doing what.
The interaction is also limited. On Candy Crush, you’re connected to your friends to ask and give power-ups, tickets and extra lives. On Clash of Clans you raid your friends’ bases, which they’re oblivious to and can’t really prevent in real time. These don’t really promote social skills, these just promote having lots of Facebook friends who might accidentally gift you something on one of these games.
The closest they get to actual social interactivity are the ported games. Streetfighter for mobile, Heartstone for mobile, Pokemon Trading Card Game for mobile all have “real-time” competitive aspects, unfortunately the fighting games don’t give a full engagement as controls often have to be streamlined to accommodate for the fact that touchscreens don’t allow you to touch multiple buttons at once, something that’s kinda vital to fighting games. The trading card games work well, but that’s about it.
Handheld consoles on the other hand have a different kind of social interactivity. The Nintendo 3DS alone has a feature called StreetPass wherein the unit detects nearby 3DS units and tags them with a simple greeting. Many games use this function and it encourages gamers to go out and seek out other gamers, creating new social circles and interacting with people they can actually see and recognize. The games on their own also encourage social interaction, Pokemon being one of the most obvious games. It forces people to trade with others, gives incentives for connecting with players across borders and even allows you to compete with one another in real time. In Fantasy Life you are questing in cooperation with other players. You are literally joining your friends on quests that you would normally not be able to accomplish on your own. One of the favorite meetup games is Monster Hunter where teams join one another to hunt gigantic monsters and forge great bonds. These are the social interactions that stay with you long after the game. It’s not a mere tag on Facebook pestering him/her to click a button.
How do you control or monitor what games your kids play on a mobile device? Quite frankly, if your kid is resourceful enough (which is a good thing) you really can’t. Once you give the device to the kid, the kid owns it and will download games ad infinitum until the memory capacity runs out… or you take away the internet.
With a handheld, games are a treasure. First off you can lock online purchases on the 3DS so they’ll only get to download games if you let them. Physical cartridges can become treats for the kids too. I remember playing the Super Nintendo with my siblings and every now and then my dad would treat us to a new game. We enjoyed every one of those games he bought. It’ll be easier to say, “We’ll get you Pokemon Omega Ruby on your birthday,” or “Bravely Default comes with good grades,” than, “Pass your subjects or no more tablet.”
Kids don’t have the best utility distinction faculties. My brother once told me of a baby who cried after being given a magazine. The baby was trying to swipe the pages in an attempt to trigger something. When the print wouldn’t move, he got frustrated and began to cry. This is because kids aren’t the best at understanding the purpose of gadgets. To kids, mobile devices become toys. Letting them play with these devices simply reinforce this idea. When it comes time to do some actual work with them they become confused and start resenting the idea that their toys are now being used to do work.
You won’t have that problem with a handheld console. These things are for gaming and anything else are bonuses. When they hold their handheld, they know it’s time to relax and play, when they get their tablets with their homework on it, they know to engage into study mode. It also avoids incidents where a parent tries to take away the tablet to stop the kid from gaming but it turns out all the homework is there too.
Work and play in equal parts, but make them distinct for more happiness.
The internet is not a safe place for kids. Without your guidance they are prone to encounter bad content and bad people. Unless you are willing to spend hours teaching them the ropes and monitoring their online activities, giving a kid a mobile device is a bad idea. At 11, my kid cousin is already making sales transactions with complete strangers through Facebook. First of all, Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old. It goes without saying that if your less-than-13-year-old has a Facebook account, monitor it well, monitor it often.
They run the risk of chatting with complete strangers that might trick them into things that could be avoidable with parental consent, for example online sellers telling them to meetup outside their school or give them credit card numbers. Big no-no’s that can be easily avoided. Either orient them or guide them, but always take this aspect with caution.
On a 3DS or Vita, online interaction is restricted to in-game match sessions. Verbal communication is limited and players tend to focus on the game rather than the chit-chat. These games already expect their audience to be around the age of 10 so their social environments are designed to focus more on the game and less on deviant social interactions.
No need to constantly look over their shoulders because browsing and other social functions are already limited so there’s a smaller tendency for them to meet online strangers that might talk them into stuff.
Value is not the same as price. Yes, paid apps on Google play and on the App store are as low as $10 or Php 500. There are thousands of free apps on both stores. A kid could access any of the thousands of apps at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, like a jailbroken game unit, the value of those games are lessened. Mincraft, even if you’ve paid $8.99 to purchase, becomes just one of many app icons in a see of freemium and pay-to-win.
With cartridges, they might have a higher price, normally around $30 or Php 1500, but each will bear more value. The reduced frequency and higher price point naturally teaches kids to value what they have. Games will have more meaning and each new one you get them will be greeted with wider smiles than the last one. Console games aren’t something you can just delete when you get bored, people often have difficulty selling them even when in dire need. The bond between gamer and game grows especially with games like Pokemon when your entire adventure is saved right on the cartridge itself.
This is not meant to demean those that have already given their kids tablets and phones. It’s my hope that with this, people looking to give kids a play-thing gadget for the holidays or whatever occasion will think twice. If you know what you’re doing giving your kid an iPad, go for it, good on you. If you don’t, here’s my advice.
Don’t agree with my thoughts on mobile devices? Did I miss any points? Let me know in the comments.