Teaching Children About Emotions

Inside Out is probably the best example of something that appeals to children and teaches them about their emotions.

I feel making games that target school-aged children is a surprisingly difficult task.  Some people may conclude that using bright colors, having simple gameplay, and avoiding complex themes is all you really need to design around for that audience.  While this may not be a bad thing, I feel that it really hinders having any sort of real impact on a child.  And since this blog post is about serious games, having an impact is a primary component of what I intend to discuss.

I’ve been tasked with trying to create a game concept that is a single-player game to help the emotional development of children roughly 6-10.  I’ve done research into this topic to learn more about how best to handle it, but I mostly draw from personal experience.  Children in my family who play games often love things like Call of Duty or other fast-paced action games.  From my past, I also loved games like that as well as fantasy RPG’s.

More importantly however, I tried to focus on any media that stood out in my past and I can directly point towards influencing me.  These tend to be the ones that had more complex themes layered into simple concepts and presented in an easily digestible manner.  Avatar: The Last Airbender and Tales of Symphonia are two things that stick out particularly well as being influential and deal with emotion at some point.

By combining this, along with some facts (listed below) I’ve learned about this stage of a child’s development leads me to believe that the best way to teach children through interactive media is best appeal to what they like and involve them into the world and characters, rather than a focus directly onto an objective like teaching them how to deal with emotions.

What I’ve learned about child development so far:

  • Children are familiar with basic emotions such as anger, sadness, joy, etc.
  • They are experience more complex emotions such as shame for the first time
  • Fantasy is prevalent at this point in a child’s life
  • Children can ‘share’ fantasies and interact together in one
  • They tend to begin associating more with their own gender
  • They tend to begin trying to be more independent and capable on their own

Essentially, creating a game to accomplish a goal other than entertainment may need to be handled more indirectly.  Showing colors, naming the emotions, and saying ‘don’t act this way’ probably isn’t a viable option after the age of six.

This complicates matters significantly and the best solution I can come up with is to create a fantasy world where they play the hero.  Emotions and showing how characters deal with them can be a big part of the story, but you need interesting gameplay and begin to add depth to the world it takes place in.

But this isn’t the only option.  Because emotions can’t be (or at least have not yet been) represented by mechanics yet, the type of game can vary.  As long as it remains fun for children and can display emotions and how to deal with them, it may leave them with a positive effect.  Then it’s just a matter of how long you let them play for…

Hopefully my fellow student’s blogs below will have a few interesting takes on the topic as well.





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