Today I want to talk about Agar.io.
Agar.io is a silly little game where you are a circle and you go around eating other circles. If you touch a circle smaller than you, you eat it. If you touch a circle larger than you, it eats you. Some circles are just dots. Some are other players.
Aside from the debates I often hear and read about multimedia time, I also hear debates about multimedia content.
I can understand parents limiting screen time and being cautious about content.
I have tried to interest my children in "educational games." I found, unfortunately, that educational games are not as interesting as other games (except minecraft, which is mind-bogglingly educational and endlessly absorbing). Radical Unschooling, I discovered later, theorizes that if the child is fascinated by something, the child is learning something. And it is in pursuit of that fascination that learning other things occur. The classic example given in the unschooling world is the child who, let's say, is fascinated by airplanes, and who eventually at age 9 learns to read when he discovers that reading unlocks the world of knowledge that he is interested in. This happened with Elazar when he realized that reading taught him coding.
Unschoolers are pragmatically brutal: the knowledge must be intensely useful or fun, or else they don't pursue it. Elazar and Jack are currently both at a level of reading that is satisfactory to them, and they independently read many things in the course of their day. When they eventually get frustrated with their level of reading because they want to know more things, they will naturally and efficiently improve their reading levels.
Chana spent many preschool hours watching, pausing, and rewinding cartoons, a classically "pointless" activity--which later gave her the ability to have nuance in facial expressions as an animator. I also bought her fancy animation software which she taught herself at age 10 or so.
So back to Agar.io. I would have thought it's a purposeless game. You name your circle and you go. But the naming of the circle has brought about all sorts of surprising outcomes.
1) There are something called "skins." When you name your circle, if you name it "CIA" then you get a little circle with cliched sunglasses. If you name it "Sir" then you get a circle with a mustache and a monocle. There is a world of adorable skins, and discovering them and making them yours is a delight.
2) You can't communicate with other circles. Or can you? Jack has been naming his "Please help me" (he spells it "ples") and all sorts of other communication phrases. This lets him build teams, something that Elazar discovered.
But the most shocking (to me) aside from Elazar and Jack writing and sounding out words, is Aharon. Aharon is only 4 and in playing this game, he asks me how to write things dozens of times a day. He often writes things down on paper so that he can refer back to them. He wants to write things like "All of you in Agar.io are all garbage" (he's trash talking the other circles). This does not fit in the allotted space, but he has tremendous patience as he yells across the room to me "..L. What's next?" Jack learned proficiency with the keyboard when he was 5 and wanted to write "candy crush" all the time until in desperation I created a google account for him so that google would remember his searches. I am shocked by how much Aharon is immersing himself in typing so that he can write what he wants. He is so patient (and he usually has quite a temper) and spends so much time working on the letters as he writes his messages and skins.
When Elazar got his tablet and realized how easy it is to use a microphone to google search I was afraid that he wouldn't learn to write as much because he can just say what he wants. But I'm beginning to see that fear was unfounded. Unlocking the door to more knowledge, to easier access to information, is better than I could have dreamed. We live in an astonishing time in history, when my small children have instant access to knowing whatever they want about anything they can think of. All they have to do is ask. The efficiency and delight is staggering.
(Sidepoint--I have a rule that all screens stay on the main floor so that I can sort of keep an eye/ear on what they are searching/watching. No unsupervised screens in bedrooms. Both Sarah and Chana had those rules (with ipod and ipad) until they were at an age where they brought up that they thought they were mature enough to police their own content and decide for themselves what was appropriate or not for themselves. I don't know what my rules will be with the boys. I tend to veer towards open information and towards training to practice self-regulation. But we will see what emerges.)