I recently watched two boys (one older [9 years] and the other younger [6 years]) playing a game on the computer. The older of the two was very familiar with the game and was demonstrating what to do, while the younger, who had not played before, was quietly watching. It was interesting watching this dynamic unfold, both extremely focused on the task at hand. Initially the support between the two was evident with the older boy playing and explaining how the game worked and what he liked to do. As time progressed though the younger boy became frustrated, wanting to try and play and to put into action what he had learnt.
The game they were playing was Age of War 2. This is a defense and strategy computer game that involves the player defending their base while they destroy the enemy. Beginning with cave men and dinosaurs the game evolves as you progress unlocking units such as Romans, Egyptians, medieval knights to modern soldiers and weaponry. The battleground can also be developed to build turrets and further supportive defenses. Age of War (2) is a free game and is simplistic in terms of its graphics and both boys made comments to this effect, but this did not detract from their enjoyment in the game and the way it held both of their attention.
I must admit that when I was initially watching the boys play I thought the game seemed quite straightforward and not that challenging. I assumed their learning was predominantly from the historical figures that were involved in the battle, finding out about their capabilities and using this knowledge to choose which warriors would be most appropriate to fight those sent by the enemy, therefore developing some knowledge around the characters and skill in problem solving. How wrong I was. It was all this and more. Since watching the boys play the Age of War (2) game I challenged myself to play the game to better understand their experience and the potential for learning.
My first lesson was that instead of just playing and learning from the experience I had to read the rules to know what to do. I was not as in tune with the expectations of the game as I suspect the boys would have been, having played many games like this before, learning the rules instead through trial and error. When I asked them if they read the instructions they both said no, but did admit to reading the “cheats guide” once they had been playing for a while, therefore learning to change the built-in rules.
My second lesson was how challenging it was to keep your attention focused in several areas at once and this was a learning experience in itself. This game provides skills in multi-tasking and requires mental agility. Players are not only choosing the appropriate warriors, but making sure there are enough to continue the battle and move closer to attack the enemies base, accumulating enough wealth to continually upgrade the defenses. Before you know it thirty minutes has turned into an hour and you had become lost in the game and don’t realise how much you have in fact have been learning. From this experience of watching and playing Age of War (2) I now have a better understanding of the enjoyment associated with these types of strategy games and how you do escape without realizing you are learning from the experience.