Yoshi's New Island Nurtures Kids' Problem Solving Skills

Posted: Mar 13 2014, 9:46pm CDT | by , Updated: Mar 14 2014, 12:29am CDT, in Gaming


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Yoshi's New Island Nurtures Kids' Problem Solving Skills

I was really excited when Nintendo told me Yoshi’s New Island was ready for review. I immediately downloaded it to the 2DS. My kids (boy six and eight) each started personal files. And I started one for myself. I’ve always loved Yoshi. He’s one of my favorite Nintendo characters.

I also think platformers are especially good for my kids; they are intrinsically motivated to refine their problem solving skills and practice analyzing and interpreting systems. More about that in a bit. First, let me tell you about the game.

My kids started the game the day we downloaded it and both of them played through to the end of the first world in one sitting, mesmerized and excited. I started playing on a long plane ride. I’ve played about half of the game so far and plan to complete it on the flight home.

At first, I was disappointed to discover that the new Yoshi game didn’t use the two screens as one big screen the way the old Yoshi’s Island DS game did. But that didn’t take away from the fun or the familiarity. If you remember the screeching Baby Mario cries, they’re still there–although they seem to come less often. Yoshi’s New Island, like the predecessor, teeters admirably between cute and irritating.

Throughout the first world of gameplay, the game feels almost too easy. I felt like I was playing the platformer that fit somewhere between Kirby and Mario. But when I reached world two, the game started to get challenging.

This is because Yoshi’s New Island really excels when it comes to teaching players how to play. New factors and mechanics styles just keep compounding fast until you discover yourself playing a really complex platformer that seems to be incongruent with the almost-infantile art style.

In the press release, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of Sales & Marketing, Scott Moffitt, put it this way, “Yoshi’s New Island will appeal to fans of the previous Yoshi’s Island games, but also to younger gamers who are experiencing the series for the first time.” That’s true. Although, I doubt anyone who never played the old Yoshi games will be as giddy as veterans when they see the giant eggs. Still, this game has a lot of the old, with just enough of the new to keep you excited.

Sure, Nintendo is basically exploiting their exceptional catalogue of old games, releasing one “New” iteration after another. But that’s nothing to complain about; it works. In fact, the familiarity is part of what makes these games work SO well for my kids. The learning curve is shallow; they can start right away, encouraged by the easiness, but it gets challenging quickly.

This is precisely why I love giving my kids these Nintendo platformers. In a familiar way, my kids get to refine their problem solving skills and practice systems thinking.

Proficiency in systems thinking is what it takes to be successful in any video game. Underlying every game no matter how complex is a relatively simple puzzle, a relatively simple systematic pattern. At root, the player is tasked with learning a combination of actions and responses. The game does one thing. The player responds with another. My kids learn, through trial and error, which responses are most effective, most efficient, and most likely to yield the desired result.

In his book A Theory of Fun For Game Design, Raph Koster explains that games work because humans love patterns. You’ve seen a Rorshach test. You’ve laid in the grass and imagined the clouds were shaped like animals. We like to look for patterns. Presented with any random collection of idiosyncrasies, human’s will always categorize, organize, and label that chaos in such a way that it becomes a system that’s useful for us.

The great thing about new Nintendo iterations like Yoshi’s New Island is that the underlying system of these games stays more or less the same. But the experience is different.

The experience and the challenges in Yoshi’s New Island are not necessarily easier than the ones in the New Super Mario Bros. or New Super Luigi Bros. platformers. But the game as whole feels easier. That’s because it is harder to die. When Baby Mario falls off Yoshi’s back you have a few seconds to get him back before you lose a life. This makes the game easier, but it also means it might be better for my kids. Because the games uses simulation in the best possible way for learning.

See the thing most people misunderstand about simulation is that what’s simulated is always failure. I’m not afraid to fly a real airplane. What scares me is crashing it. So I use a flight simulator to make sure I learn the system before the stakes become real, before there’s really something on the line.

Video games all have one thing in common. They simulate failure without any consequences. When I die, I get another life. A do over. A replay. Nothing lost. I just get to try again. I try and fail. And I fail again and again until I understand the system well enough to do it right. This encourages perseverance, refines problem solving skills and, drills systems thinking acuity.

Of course, these are the positive impacts that come from playing any video game. It doesn’t have to be Yoshi’s New Island. However, Yoshi’s New Island is a good one, especially for younger kids.

Jordan Shapiro will be speaking about systems thinking and how kids learn problem solving skills at the Global Education And Skills Forum in Dubai (March 15-17) about game-based learning, educational technology, and the future of learning.

Source: Forbes

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