iKids Gamers: Here comes the Amiibos!

With the release of the Amiibo figurines, Nintendo is entering into the lucrative toys-to-life category pioneered by Activision’s Skylanders and emulated by Disney Infinity. Today, Nintendo fans will be able to get their hands on their favorite characters. Mario, Link, Kirby, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong are among the first toys to be released.

The toys are designed to use with the Wii U and allows characters to come alive and enhance the capabilities of their characters in video games like Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart 8.

Activision was the first company to create a way for plastic molded figures to become action characters in a video game. In the Skylanders system, gamers take a plastic toy figure, like Spyro, and place it on a portal that connects to a game system like the PlayStation, the Xbox, or the Wii U. Once the figure is put on the portal, the character appears on the screen (think of Star Trek when Captain Kirk is beamed from the spaceship Enterprise to a planet).   Now the gamer uses his or her character to defeat enemies in the Skylanders video game. How successful has this been? Skylanders has generated more than $2 billion since the fall of 2011 and sold more than 175 million toys.

Disney Infinity, which was launched in 2013, has used the same technology to bring classic Disney characters alive to the tune of over $500 million in sales and just recently released Disney Infinity 2.0 featuring characters from Marvel.

Gamers, both children and adults alike, have made this new category of toys a lucrative part of the toy merchandizing scene. Companies like Toy “R” Us, Wall-Mart, and Target feature huge displays that seek to inspire sales. This Christmas season will be sure to capture even more gamers as Nintendo enters this emerging market.

Why is the toy-to-life strategy so successful?

  1. People are looking for the real.   In a digital age where images are transitory, being able to hold in your hands a carefully crafted figure that represents the essence of the character makes the video game seem more significant.
  2. People long for meaning. Video games are not simply games; they are immersive stories of heroism, good vs. bad, and spiritual attainment. Holding a character in your hand and then playing as that character in a game intensifies the lessons learned in the gaming experience. Nintendo’s tag line for the Amiibo says it all, “Discover the power inside.”
  3. People desire icons of significance. Since time immortal, humans have crafted physical icons that represent their values, beliefs, and deepest longings. Being able to place Mario, Link, Princes Elsa, Mickey Mouse, Spider-man, or Spryo next to your beside takes the video game experience with you and becomes a frame of reference as you battle your own personal villains and seek to overcome life’s obstacles.

How to Share iKids at Your Church

Many of you who are excited about the iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age have asked me what is the best way to share the book and its ideas with parents and adults working with children and youth. A great time to focus on this topic is between New Year’s and Ash Wednesday.  It so happens there are six weeks during that time, so churches can think about doing a six week series of sermons, seminars, or offer small groups during that time. Here are five strategies you can use:

  1. Do a sermon series on Six Values for the Digital Age starting on January 11 and finishing on February 15 using the Six Values for the Digital Age Study Guide as your resource.  Here are the topics and scriptures:

  • January 11: Happiness – Psalm 1:1-3
  • January 18: Wisdom – Proverbs 3:5-8, 13-18
  • January 25: Hope – Psalm 71:5-6 & Romans 5:1-5
  • February 1: Vision – Joel 2:28 & Revelation 7:16-17
  • February 8: Identity – 1 Samuel 3:8-10, Luke 1:35-37, 2:46-51
  • February 15: Faith – 2 Timothy 1:3-7
  1. Offer a Wednesday evening series using the same outline above starting on Wednesday, January 7th and finishing on February 11 (Ash Wednesday is February 18th).

  2. Give copies of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age to your children’s and youth Sunday School teachers for Christmas and do a follow-up training on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon in January. Use the iKids Handout and Presentation Slides to share ideas from the book and have a discussion with them about what this means for the families in your congregation.

  3. Offer a parent’s event on Sunday, January 25th on the iKids and use the iKids Presentation Handout and Presentation Slides to share your ideas. This is the first football free Sunday since August, the week before the Super Bowl, so it’s a good time to offer a lunch and learning time after church.

  4. Offer a small group study or use the material in a Sunday School Class for parents using iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Six Values for the Digital Age.

iKids Resources you can share:

Six Values For The Digital Age at ikidsgen

iKids Presentation Handouts

iKids Presentation Slides

iKids and Screen Time: Is it Time to Hit the Pause Button?

It’s hard to believe, but the iPad has only been around for four years. First introduced in 2010, it ushered in a digital wave of devices that have been quickly embraced by families with children. Almost everywhere you go you will see children with digital devices about three inches from their faces as parents do their shopping or walking.

Some recent articles and studies reminds us that we are in the midst of a great experiment – and it might be time to hit the pause button on the amount of time we let the iKids use our favorite devices.

  1. Is there a difference between reading a book on a screen than reading a physical book?
    Apparently so. When parents read a book to a child on an iPad or Kindle Fire there is more focus on what is happening on the screen than on the story that is being read. As a child looks at the words on the screen, they want to touch the screen to make something happen. Instead of focusing on the words and the story, they are more interested in the images on the screen. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University says the goal of reading a book is starting a conversation about the story. “But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”
  1. Does the number of words a child hear matter?
    While much is made of the economic disparities between the rich and the poor, another disparity has great implications on a child’s success in the future. Studies show that affluent parents spend 30 minutes more a day reading and talking to their children than poor parents. The daily intake of words is just as significant as maintaining a healthy diet or getting enough exercise. By the time a poor child enters school he or she has heard 30 million less words than their affluent peers whose parents buy them books, read to them, and engage in more conversations. What makes this even more troublesome is that a child can’t make this up by working harder when they are older. The development of language skills it closely tied to the developing brain of the toddler and preschooler – once that time is past, you can’t make it up. This research does not take into account the new trend of using digital devices. If the affluent turn to using tablets for reading instead of physical books, the number of words heard by their children may go down.
  1. Does multitasking damage your brain?
    You would think watching TV and flipping pages on your smartphone at the same time is just a harmless activity, just a way to spend some of your down time. But it turns out, multitasking, especially if it is an ongoing way of life, may be taking a toll on our brains. The brain can only do one thing at a time and with the constant switching between streams of information you end up doing multiple things inefficiently. Stanford University researchers found heavy multitaskers did poorly when it came to productivity because they are unable to filter out unnecessary information. In another study, researchers at the University of Sussex compared the MRI scans of people who multitasked and those who didn’t. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in their cortex, the part of the brain that controls our emotions and cognitive ability. Neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh, the study’s lead author, explained the implications: “I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

The Implications:

While the use of techgear for reading and entertainment may be convenient and fun, when it come to iKids we need to seriously think about how much they should spend on screens. Because children and young teens are at the peak of brain development, a careful watch must be made on how the devices are used.

  • For preschoolers, the old fashioned practice of reading a physical book develops imagination and deep thinking. It makes a connection between the parent, the child, and the story that enhances their thinking and creates an emotional bond between parent and child.
  • For 8-10 year-olds, the types of study habits they develop will greatly impact their ability to think in the future. Working to use one stream of information, rather than being surrounded by multiple devices will be a challenge, especially as schools increasingly turn to the use of techgear in the classroom.
  • For 13-14 year-olds, as smartphones become the center of their relationships with their friends, the challenge becomes weaning them off their constant texting, SnapChatting, and uploading. When it comes to schoolwork, what was said earlier about 8-10 year-olds it true – moving them away from multitasking is important for their long-term brain development.