User Behavior & Psychology / Article 17.
First Published in Mar. 2007, HCI Vistas Vol-II
Author: Dr. Dinesh Katre
This is a common question one encounters during seminars and workshops on usability. The answer is structured in terms of the cognitive properties, stimulus hunger, attention hunger and power hunger of children. The psychological aspects stated here, are present in all human beings across all age groups, but they are manifested through computer games in case of young children. The following is a summary of various psychological aspects relevant in this context. All of them may not be applicable to all children. There is also brief discussion on the flip side of the psychological setup among elder people.
This article refers to young children in the age group of 5 to 12 years and elders who are above 19 years old. I have not included the teenagers (13 to 19 years) in the present scope of the article, because ‘gender awareness’ evolves during this period. From the point of view of psychology, it is a very significant change. Also, one begins the struggle for independent survival in twenties. The priorities change. Therefore it needs a separate discussion for each category. The observations are applicable to the present era of young children and elders. We need to observe what happens to these children when they grow up. What I understand by the term ‘crazy gamer’ is those who use computers mainly for gaming only (less for study or work), show high level of proficiency in playing, some kind of obsession for it and play it for several hours. In case of children this type of usage is very high.
We are discussing “why children become crazy gamers?”. It does not mean that people in other age groups do not like computer games. This question implies many surprising aspects (for those who feel this question). They are as under-
1. During that young age, children have very limited knowledge of computers. But they show great proficiency while playing games.
2. Most elders believe that children need to be taught (though not right). But children master the computer games through self-learning.
3. Game serves as a key motivator for most children and they begin to learn things like how to copy the game, how to write a CD, how to install it, how to create shortcut on the desktop, how to use the crack, how to borrow game CDs from others, etc. Their self-initiative is very surprising, which otherwise may not be seen! Children + Computer Games is a unique category.
Firstly, let us understand what works better for young children. They are extremely good at constructing knowledge through experimentation and observation. Children are dynamic learners; they love to interact and try stupidly creative / unconventional approaches to solve a problem, without wanting to be right or wrong. They are not afraid of making errors. They are easily attracted to stimulating colors, actions, events and sounds. They are more receptive when the information is presented in the form of a story or a puzzle. They are prodigal creators of metaphors and can quickly understand them. Children love computer games, as they are full of metaphors, puzzles and stories. Children can quickly imagine and believe to have become one of the characters in the story like Alladin or Harry Potter. For them, it is a dream come true. Even parents nurture them to believe that they are heroes. But they get disillusioned while confronting the real world. It is so tough out there. For some of them, computer game serves as the escape door.
All human beings and especially children have tremendous stimulus hunger. Their senses are sharply sensitive and constantly in search of excitement. They are too inquisitive to explore the world. If there is no excitement they quickly get bored and march towards something else. This stimulus hunger manifests in the form of hyperactivity. It is more visible in intelligent children. Excitement is what they look for. They are unable to clearly distinguish between real world and the computer game. The stimulus hunger dictates the choice based on what offers more excitement. Eric Berne has already discussed about the stimulus hunger of human beings in his book entitled Games People Play.
Another psychological reason behind their love for computer games is that the computer connects eye-to-eye with them. Children crave for attention from others. They do not get it enough due to several reasons. Have you observed that kids in the age group of 5 to 10 years are unable to make good eye contact (more so when they are held accountable for something)? In the school, during project demonstrations, I have observed that students in this age group are unable to make good eye contact with elder people (especially strangers). The elders have to bend before kids to give proper attention. As per my observation, it is due to longer distance required for making an eye contact with tall elders and lack of confidence. It is known that up to first 7 years of a child, the vision centre in the brain continues to develop. And they are more comfortable in concentrating on objects at closer distance. Even we as parents tend to ignore them especially when we are busy. We do not care to respond every time. You may recall, you make them sit in your lap while giving important instructions to them. Distance matters here!
When children sit next to computer,
the monitor stares right into their eyes.
Apparently, the computer offers better eye contact
and attention (through the monitor) than elders.
Children get the sense of full attention from computer,
as it responds to every action (every click) unlike the elder people.
It is a non-verbal medium for them! They can communicate very effectively with the computer by simply clicking. Apart from this, children love to have become the subject of discussion, when parents and on-lookers discuss about their obsession for computer games. They feel encouraged to overdo it.
Young children are dependents to their parents.
They hardly get the “influence enjoyment”,
which they crave for.
But parents get a lot of “influence enjoyment” when kids are around; they can stop them, teach them, scold them, punish them and what not. The children feel powerless. But when they play computer games, it is a world under their complete control. They feel liberated. They can make or break things. If they are losing they can abort the game and start it all over again. They can try until they win and feel over-the-top. They feel superior to others in the virtual world (though they may not always be winners in academics). They are kings in the world of computer games. They can feel invincible!
Computer game is the place where their hyperactivity, stimulus hunger,
attention hunger and power hunger is satisfied.
Naturally, young children tend to be crazy gamers. Let us also understand the flip side of elder people in terms of their psychological setup.
The flip side
Elders are inhibited and prejudiced by past experience e.g. they might be thinking like using computer for playing games is waste of resources or it can damage the keyboard. The social notions (in certain societies) force them to believe that elders must act responsibly and do serious work e.g. they might think about Return On Investment (ROI) for playing computer games. Also most elders, due to educational and professional experience become too logical thinkers, failing to try unconventional things while playing games. They become verbal and their ability to comprehend non-verbal, non-explicit communication declines. They are no more agile and dynamic as kids. They have to constantly live in the real world and confront it. They do not see much value in fictional games. Therefore, a seperate study is necessary to understand what type of games would work better for elder people.
Dr. Dinesh Katre presently heads the National Multimedia Resource Centre of C-DAC, Pune, India. He is the principle designer of many software products that deal with digital library, cultural informatics, e-learning, multimedia authoring and computer game design. He has special interest in the cognitive study of technology users and behavioral design of products. Journal of HCI Vistas is his community building initiative. It is meant to promote research oriented, multi-disciplinary thinking in the field of Human-Computer Interaction in India. This e-publication is open for usability practitioners and UX designers to publish short articles.
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