Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book 'Em, Danno

Interesting story in Publisher's Weekly's Industry News today about "dynamic, interactive multimedia content" for kids. Or in other words, the picture books of tomorrow.

Speaking at Digital Book World, four publishers who have already staked a claim in the great digital book frontier talked about rapidly changing technology and what it means to the publishing world as more and more books are going digital.

I found humor in how each identified himself on the panel. Are they book publishers? Not in the traditional sense. More like a “mobile and tablet publisher,” as one defined his business.

The question of quality is always what interests me, and Rick Richter of Ruckus Media Group has the most interesting comments. He referred to picture book apps and this new medium as "books you can play with and games you can read."

Richter said, “there are 30,000 kids’ apps in the App Store, and about 27,000 of them are horrible. We hope to take that curator's role and let parents know what’s makes a great app and an excellent experience for their kids. We want people to take this space seriously and respect kids.”

Let's hope he puts his money where his mobile, interactive body opening through which food is taken in is.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Excessive Gaming and Depression

I'll be the first to admit that the Wii makes a great babysitter. Fun, peppy personality, reliable, and the kids are in love!

When I have to meet a work deadline and I have a house full of my short friends, eager to do something, I sometimes let them Wii. And oh, my, how the time flies!

Suddenly and hour, two hours, dare I admit THREE hours go by. Without a peep from my peeps for me to engage or intervene or entertain. No muss, no fuss, and my project gets done.

We don't always go on video game benders like that. I typically limit their screen time -- whether it's the TV, laptop, or a phone. But life gets busy, and we occasionally have days that are intense for Mom and Dad.

But once the deadlines have passed and I am no longer a crazed lunatic, I find it all a bit appalling. What do we have to show for all that time? Just thinking of those hours spent on Star Wars Legos for the Wii makes me queasy. Like the way I feel after consuming a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup.

Both instances (the excessive Wii and the ice-cream overload) require a bit more self-control on all our part. I own up to throwing out the rules now and then -- life isn't always tidy.

Balance. Moderation. We all strive for reasonable approaches to life in our day to day, and we want our kids to understand it too. But it's hard. And it takes discipline -- both internal and external.

As adults, we recognized that just about anything in massive doses is bad for us. Kids have to be taught this. And that's why the recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that found excessive gaming may lead to depression, anxiety, and poor grades in school comes as no surprise.

The researchers studied more than 3,000 elementary and middle-school children in Singapore. Their findings? Almost 9 percent of these kids were "addicted" to gaming, and similar percentages were found in other countries.

The kids where considered "pathological" gamers exhibited higher levels of depression and other mental health issues than their peers who played fewer video games. On the plus side was that students who stopped excessive gaming reportedly reduced their levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia.

As I read this, I immediately wanted to know where my kids fit in. According to the study:
  • Pathological gamers clocked in an average of more than 31 hours a week
  • Their less excessive peers tallied about 19 hours a week
What does 31 hours look like? Well, nearly a full-time job. Even the group playing fewer hours could still hold a part-time job.

If kids are gaming every day after they come home from school, they're putting in more than 6 hours daily. Say they get home at 3 p.m., -- does this mean they are gaming until 9 p.m.? What about homework, dinner, any sort of sports or other activities? To fit those it too, they're probably gaming until midnight.

If those 31 hours are distributed over the entire week, that's nearly 5 hours each day.

And with what are those hours filled? Just like the Wii benders we experience, and when I stare at that empty Ben & Jerry's carton, yuck. Regret.

What would these kids in the study be like if they were engaged in something productive? What if they were building a new game to share with friends? Or making a movie, creating a public service announcement for their school. Or moving offline, what if they were playing a sport? Singing in a choir? Would they be depressed if they were interacting with friends or friendly adults? Would their grades turn around if they found more purpose for their time?

Perhaps the kids in this study already had addictive behaviors, and gaming just happens to be the outlet. That is possible -- in any cross-section of the population, we will find a lot of folks with these issues.

But any way we count it, 31 hours is a lot of time to spend on endless, repetitive tasks each week. And the rewards seem less than satisfying. It would tax the mind and emotions of anyone, adult or child.