Friday, April 3, 2020

Teachable Moments in Video Games While Stuck Indoors

The world is kind of in a crazy place right now with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Maryland, we are in a state of lockdown as is much of the country right now. It's really tough to figure out how to keep yourself occupied or what exactly to do, especially if you have kids. Gone are the days of being able to hop in the car and go to a farm or some event with the kids, instead each day is met with school work at home, followed by some screen time, and then a neighborhood walk if the weather is up for it. The monotony can kick it real hard, real fast and if you don't mix things up a bit and exercise your brain, the kids can get a little stir crazy. That's a lose lose for everyone involved. Thankfully, we found a way to go on adventures while not even leaving our houses thanks to our trusty ol' Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch has been known to put out some great games (if you don't believe me, just go check out my reviews section.) Recently has been no different with the release of two games fans have been clamoring for, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Both games, while wildly different in their gameplay, allow your family to go on adventures in a digital world from the comfort of your couch. I'll walk you through how our family used both games to not only teach, but stimulate the brain of a bored 6 year old with digital adventures.

Exploring the a Pokemon?

In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you awake in a new land as a Pokemon that can talk and interact with other Pokemon. Your character is just as confused as you are but leans into it and forms a Rescue Team with another Pokemon companion. This team is then tasked with taking on odd jobs for the other resident Pokemon in the world which usually resolves around saving others or solving problems. The premise is cute and appropriate for all ages and your kids will be exploring dungeons and fighting enemies to save others before you know it. It's never overly violent and if your kid is a fan of Pokemon they will be right at home with the Pokemon friends they'll be making. 

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is a dungeon RPG game at heart, but it's very basic in it's approach so as to not scare away the younger crowds. You don't have to worry about complex stat systems or balancing items, it's all done on the backend. You just have to explore, combat the enemy Pokemon, and have fun living your best life as a Pokemon of your choosing.

My son is 6 and is learning to read, so we used this game as a way to teach while he also has fun exploring. The games doesn't have any voices, it's all text based. While my son couldn't read everything on screen, he was able to read along with me and when a word came up he didn't know, I was there to help him sound it out. There is plenty to read in the game and the text gets comical (as any Pokemon game would) so your little reader will have plenty to keep them busy while cooped up indoors.

The dungeons you will be exploring in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon are basically outdoor areas that a number of natural landscapes. Boulders, caves, islands, plateaus, plains, and the like can all be found within the game. Have your little one point out the landscapes they see and compare and contrast between them. It's an easy way to keep them entertained while also throwing in some geography lessons while you are at it. 

Taking an Island Vacation...from your couch?

One of the most highly anticipated Nintendo games in recent memory finally released last month to critical acclaim. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the first major TV console release of an Animal Crossing game since the GameCube. As a fan since the original, I was super excited to get my hands on this title and live in the virtual world of Animal Crossing.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you are greeted with a unique opportunity upon booting up the game - leave everything behind and start fresh on a remote island with just the clothes on your back. Naturally I jumped at the chance to do this (who wouldn't?) and before long I was setup with my own tent on a beach with friendly animal companions also having their own homes. If you're new to the game, you basically live a virtual life by collecting items, selling things, and upgrading your house and island. That's a gross under simplification but you get the general gist. It's a life sim, wrapped in a cute aesthetic that is family friendly. It's escapism as it's best and it honestly couldn't have come at a better time.

Animal Crossing has been the hit of our screen time since it's release. My son has a character he created and he enjoys collecting fruit, catching fish and bugs, and looking for dinosaur bones he can donate to the museum. The game allows you to change your clothes based on your style, and it was fun watching my son build his virtual closet. We have also been implementing teaching moments in the game. Just like with Pokemon, there is no spoken voice (well, there is but it's gibberish) so everything has to be read. We help him out, but mostly he can make heads or tails over what is being asked of him. The second teaching lesson we came up with was using the map in game. One of the take home lessons from my son's school was learning how to use a map and we thought this would be the perfect supplemental item to do that. My wife and I would give him a vague location of something on the island and he would have to use the map to find it. The fact that he was learning about maps in school was a fun coincidence that we had a blast implementing into the virtual world.

Something unintended we stumbled across while playing the game was the lesson of kindness. The animals on the island usually ask you for things or need a favor. Watching our son do these without question not only because he usually got something in return, but because he wanted to be friendly with the animals was fun to watch. You can call out these interactions and ask why they did something the way they did and see what they say. 

Finally, counting is another lesson you can implement into your Animal Crossing game time. The currency in the world is something called "bells" and you will collect them by selling items to Tom Nook's kin or by finding them in the world through exploration. Before you pick up the bells, you'll see how much the denomination is. By having out son looking at his existing money, we would ask him what his new total would be after he picked up the bells to throw in a little bit of math while we were at it. While upgrading your house, you also have to figure out how much more money you owe to Tom Nook to pay off your loan and this is another each way to get your kids counting while enjoying a video game. 

More Adventures to Come

Not being able to leave the house because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is taxing for everyone, especially for little ones that have a ton of energy. They need their outside time to burn off energy, so if you are able to do that safely it's a must. But when that time is over and you're back indoors, the Nintendo Switch is a great tool to help stave off boredom while also using it to supplement your home schooling. Name the fruit you find in Animal Crossing or detail the landscapes you're seeing in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Adventure is what you make of it and there is plenty of adventure to be had in these games. 

Hopefully these tips will help your family just a little in these weird times. Video games are a wonderful way to escape the scary and uncertain real life, if only for a little, and these games have certainly been a hit with our family.

Review copies of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX and Animal Crossing: New Horizons were provided to me for free ahead of publication, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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