Are Games Such As ‘Angry Birds’ Appropriate for Kids?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

I am what Marc Prensky would call a “digital immigrant.” I did not grow up with computer technology but have learned to use it as it appears on my horizon. Some of this use has come from necessity, such as when the company I worked for bought Apple IIes to use for some data tracking. As more and more computer technology appeared on the scene, I embraced some of it while ignoring or rejecting others. I never played video/computer games, for instance, and wouldn’t know one end of a joystick from the other. On the other hand, I cannot imagine life without the Internet and Google.

However, I have started playing some computer games, such as solitaire and some other free card games on my computer and on the Internet. I am a user of Words for Friends through my FaceBook account. However, I have never really played what I consider to be video/computer games until this summer when I bought an Android tablet so I could have a small, light-weight device for checking my email when traveling and for downloading e-books. Around the same time, I heard a story on Dick Gordon’s The Story in which he interviewed the designers of Temple Run. It piqued my interest, I think in large part because one of the designers was a woman (gender differences in technology use and development is a story for another day). 

I downloaded Temple Run to my tablet and started trying to figure it out. I found several websites that explained the rudiments of the game, which were very helpful, and some with strategies for cheating it, most of which are still beyond my limited abilities. After several months, I am still not very proficient at the game. I have earned enough coins to buy a female avatar to replace the male one that came with the game. I can attract coins with the coin magnet, which is good because I can focus more on my running and not have to worry about collecting coins, too. I have bought invisibility, which helps me when there are wide chasms to jump. I have also learned to navigate and even anticipate some of the obstacles.

Despite what has been significant improvement in my ability to play the game, I am far from the players who have posted that they have run millions of meters in a single game or collected a gazillion coins. However, I am not interested in competing with them. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to concentrate long enough to complete a really long run or to collect masses of coins. I think Temple Run offers me other incentives, besides being fun, which are more meaningful to me, such as achieving the various goals and trying to out-do previous performances. Most important of all for me, I think, is that I am seeing goals for myself and competing with myself.

Based on my overall positive experiences with Temple Run, I decided to download Angry Birds to my tablet a couple weeks ago. I had heard people talk about it quite a bit, but really had no idea what it was like. I found a website that explained the game and started playing, and I quickly became addicted. I was fairly successful at it, and when I got to a level that was difficult, I persisted until I was able to complete it. I also found the “cheats” for this game helpful as sometimes they’d show trajectories that I may not have tried. I also realized that I was thinking in terms of trajectories and analyzing strategies for completing the game, which seemed to be positive, i.e., educational, aspects of the game. I could see where the strategies would be useful for the kind of unconscious skills acquisition that such games are touted for.

However, after a few days, I also realized two things were happening that I did not like very much. I would get rather irritated and frustrated when I was not successful, and I was taking too much pleasure in killing those smirky little pigs. “Ha, got you, you little b——d!” Where is that coming from? I am not a violent person or a vengeful person. I tend to be pretty calm and cool in most circumstances. Was the angry bird here really me?

If this game was evoking these reactions and feelings in me, a fairly calm, rational adult, I wondered about the effect this game might have on children. As early as the 1950s, studies were being done on the impact of violence on television on children. Such studies have continued since that time, and as each new form of media has evolved, studies of the influence of violence in music, violent video games, and other media have come under scrutiny. A quick look at research found through Academic Search Premier on “media violence and children” and “media violence and adolescents” and “video games and aggression” does show a tendency toward increased aggression among elementary aged children and adolescents who are exposed to media violence.

It does not appear that research has proved or disproved a correlation between violent media and violence among children and adolescents, but it does point to the need for further studies on specific types of violence portrayed and other factors that appear to lead to aggressive behavior. I also did not find any research on the effects of such media on adults. I think this research does point to a need for examining the balance of educational aspects of such games with the amount and kind of violence participants engage in.

I think my few days of being an “angry bird” were enough for me. I may play it again from time to time, but I’ll stick to Temple Run where the only thing that dies is my avatar.

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