Elaine Forrestal

Communicating with language

At the weekend I found myself working in the same room as a 12 year old and an 8 year old who were playing a computer game together, but on different computers. Their separate screens were showing the same setting, the same action in the same virtual world. The two of them were a team, competing against another team of two players, in different locations, who had logged in when a space became available for them as only four people could play at one time.

It seemed to me that the object of the game was for members of one team to keep members of the opposite team from invading their headquarters. But in order to do that they had to be constantly modifying, strengthening and reconstructing the building. However, no changes could be made to the fortifications without the consent of both players in the team. With all computer sound turned off the two ‘live’ children in the room talked to each other, laughed a lot, came up with ideas, keep the ones that worked and quickly scrapped the ones that didn’t, and worked hard and fast to repel these invaders.

I confess that I have never played computer games. And have, until now, only been aware of them in a peripheral way, when I happened to see or hear them in passing. At close quarters, I was amazed at the complexity of language, the problem solving skills and the creativity of these two young people as they shared ideas, suggested strategies and cooperated with each other to reach a common goal. While I can see how, without the necessity of taking breaks to eat, sleep, go to school and have play-days with their friends, these games could become addictive. But as a means of developing language and communication skills this one, at least, has won my approval.

Never underestimate this new generation!