(LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 08: A Gametel wireless controller by Fructel is used to play a video game on a smartphone during a press event at The Venetian for the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 8, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The device can turn most Android or iOS smartphones or tablets into portable gaming consoles. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs from January 10-13 and is expected to feature 2,700 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 140,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images))

Attention parents: Video games are taking over, says study

Video games and online gaming platforms are more popular than ever among Latino kids and teens alike, but new research suggests that the slick elements of gaming may be entering other areas of daily life, making gamification a phenomenon that Latino parents should be aware of.

A new Pew Internet/Elon University report released today surveyed more than 1,000 internet researchers, experts and observers and found that there has been a significant growth in the use of game elements in online, every day activities. This emergence of ‘gamification’ is what Elon University professor Janna Anderson calls “a way to describe interactive online design that plays on people’s competitive instincts and often incorporates the use of rewards to drive action.” These virtual rewards can include points, payments, badges, discounts, gifts and friend counts, she says, but some experts believe that “friends,” “likes,” “followers” and Twitter “retweets” could also “be considered the gamification of information sharing.”

So why care about gamification? A 2011 Northwestern University study analyzing two Kaiser Family Foundation surveys found that minority youth ages 6 to 18 typically spend an average of 13 hours a day using computers, mobile devices, TVs and other media – nearly 4 ½ hours more than their white peers. Hispanic youth followed just behind Asian American children (13 hours, 13 minutes a day) with their media use, with approximately 13 hours a day.

Opinions on the ramifications of gamification differ widely, but experts agree that the growing emergence of the trend can be considered both positive and negative.

“Gamification can lead to a focus on short term actions and results. We don’t know right now if there is real retention or transfer in relation to learning or education in this manner,” says Mia Consalvo, the Canada Research Chair in Game Studies & Design at Concordia University in Montreal. “Likewise, it can spur competition that may be either helpful or harmful. Sometimes friendly competition can encourage a person to try her best to achieve something; at other times, and especially if the task is difficult, it may lead to resignation or the feeling that one will ‘never win’ or will always fall short of a goal.”

Tech expert Reynol Junco agrees that the long term ramifications of gaming can be mixed.

“The growing phenomena of gamification is such a broad term and such a broad thing that I think it can have different ramifications depending on the area where it’s used,” says Dr. Junco, a professor at Loch Haven University who studies the intersection between education and technology.

“My major concern is that children may be marketed to or affected by insidious advertising that increases their motivation to get, connect to or buy a product without realizing it,” explains Dr. Junco. “On the other hand, as a professor who teaches extremely large lectures, I’m excited about potentially using gamification to get kids engaged and achieve content mastery.”

Dr. Junco is currently raising funds to create a project system that would allow students to earn points for checking into the classroom, sharing notes, attending supplemental office hours and study sessions.

“If we use gamification to engage and motivate students, in that sense gamification is extremely positive,” says Dr. Junco. Dr. Junco says that the use of gamification in early childhood education may also be successful, explaining that teaching young children is “about making content fun and interesting by using a reward system.”

So what’s a parent to do when gamification – both good and bad – penetrates so many aspects of daily activity? It’s as simple as a conversation, says Dr. Consalvo.

“Parents should always promote media literacy and discuss with their kids how companies make their money and how audiences can be used in different ways by companies and marketers, and ultimately, what kids want out of their interactions online.”


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