Millions of children throughout the world are at this very moment playing the online multiplayer game of greatest success among children: CLASH OF CLANS. Many parents have downloaded it in their smartphones or tablets, at their children’s request. Most of these parents who carry it around in their pocket know nothing about its features, its pros or its cons.
When the Finnish company Supercell launched it in the Apple Store, it could not foresee that after 4 months over 3 million people would be playing it everyday. Children, young people and adults too, from over 130 different countries, compete against each other in this strategy game in a setting full of Vikings, wizards, warlike valkyries and spells.
And the truth is that after half a year playing CLASH OF CLANS, I must admit that it merits this success. It is magnificently designed, very attractive, entertaining and… addictive. Of course, it has its virtues and its defects. And if a game’s defects may affect children and teenagers, it is necessary to inform about them and to intervene. Sincerely, I believe it has more virtues than defects, but its negative aspects are important. The good new is we can intervene and neutralize its negative aspects. Let’s see how.
It is a building and war game. At the beginning a new player will need to spend more time on it, as the player will start building his/her village from scratch. This implies tasks that will guarantee the production of supplies, setting up the necessary defences to fend off enemy’s attacks and, above all, create a powerful army. The player must also enter into some kind of alliance that will help him/her defend and position him/herself. In the alliance our player will meet people from whom s/he will learn and who will learn from the player, from any country in the world.
Spending hours of one’s time building a virtual village and protecting it against virtual dragons in an online game may seem to be rather superficial. Nevertheless, it is neither superficial nor useless. It is not a “shooting” game, it is a strategy game. That is to say, it is a game that requires thinking, planning and managing. And before coming into detail about this game’s virtues, I would like to make the point on two issues from the pedagogical point of view. First of all: PLAYING IS NEVER A WASTE OF TIME. It is something we must do for many hours since we are born and something we should go on doing once we become adults. Playing is humans’ main way of learning, and that is also the case for other species. And secondly, just in case someone would feel tempted to affirm that “before we didn’t need any of all this to have fun”, I recommend reflecting a little before saying anything in those lines. The work and the tasks our brain needs to develop in order to advance in a game such as this one are a lot more important and necessary than those developed by many generations in simpler and more basic games. Many generations have spent hours playing cards, dominoes, ludo and the game of the goose, and all that is fine. But a strategy game requires the activation of many mental processes that are a lot more complex than those required in traditional games, which are still a lot of fun to play. The approach to this issue should not be a competition between modern games and traditional games, nor should it be a battle between ICT-related games and manual games. Everything is necessary, positive and interesting. It’s not about eliminating or opposing games. But, if I was forced to choose, I am totally convinced of what is more enriching for our brain: a game that does not depend on a cast of the dice or on the cards one is dealt by chance.
As I point out in my paper on online strategy games, CLASH OF CLANS strengthens and develops mental tasks and processes that are necessary in life. The player has the possibility of seeing in just a few weeks what happens when something has not been well planned; the problems that may arise from being too daring in life and those of never risking anything; the issues that appear in the medium term after building something very quickly in order to finish it extremely fast and how fragile it will end up being. Those people who try to get an immediate outcome of everything they do will see that it is a wrong approach. They will see that in this game, just like in life, no good and long-lasting outcome may be achieved without effort and investment, that it is necessary to sow and be patient. Children may embrace all this before they become adults and experience it in real life, with the consequences this may have on their lives and on other people’s lives. Learning through play allows for experience-based learning, without the need to invest many years in that learning and with more salvageable consequences.
Here is a summary of the advantages pointed out in another paper:
- Development of foreseeing and anticipating skills. Analysis of previous situations, association of ideas, events and consequences.
- The abilities to do sacrifices and to postpone the immediate satisfaction of desires. Some detractors of new technologies assert that ICTs make children get used to constant stimulation and to obtaining an immediate response and reward. But, oddly enough, some of these new technologies and apps, like this game, promote precisely the opposite.
- The ability to get over a negative event and recover from it. Perseverance.
- Quick learning from mistakes. Players discover that a certain decision was wrong in a few weeks’ time, and without the need to experience this in real life with irreversible consequences. In these games a wrong vital strategy will be confirmed in just a few weeks.
- The ability to analyse and manage a lot of information simultaneously.
- Convergent and divergent thinking.
- Strengthening of the stimulus-response relationship: in the game every event has an associated response.
- Equality. The rules are the same for all and there are no exceptions.
- Collaborative work. Discovering and seeing the results that may be achieved by team work in comparison to individualism.
- Strengthening of the feeling of belonging to a group and of all the related aspects: self-esteem, sociability…
- The possibility of experimenting different roles within one or several groups.
- Tolerance. Interaction with players of different ages and origins.
Certainly positive aspects are plentiful, and of great importance. But an inappropriate use or a too commercial use of the game will have serious consequences on children and teenagers. This is why parents should understand the basic mechanism of the game and set very clear rules concerning the use of the game.
First of all we must point out that CLASH OF CLANS is a free game, until the player starts paying for things… Players may accelerate advances paying for things. There is an in-game shop where players may buy “gems” in order to obtain resources immediately, without effort and without spending any time to get them. Purchases vary between €4.49 for a pile of 500 gems, up to €89.99 for a chest of 14,000 gems. And, of course, you can do as many purchases as you wish. There is no expenditure limit.
The company that designed and markets CLASH OF CLANS, Supercell, earns over one million dollars a day with two games in just one operating system (iOS). Both games are top selling games for iPad in 122 countries… Not bad. It is a free game, but players can spend as much money as they want on it. This is totally legal, but should be carefully considered by those who have children, or by adults who work with minors and use this game to exploit its pedagogical component.
Videogames of this kind are highly addictive. Players experience the feeling of achieving small targets, but this has no end. There is an unlimited possibility of improving, and the feeling of power increases at the same rate. In small doses it would be considered as a healthy focus on self-improvement, but more and more time and dedication are required, and in the end having an addictive behaviour may not only depend on the individual’s self control (or on other people’s supervision).
CONTACT WITH STRANGERS
When a player decides to enter into an alliance, usually in order to learn and evolve more quickly or to protect him/herself from other players’ attacks, s/he will meet people of all kinds. Of course, most people who spend time in this type of leisure are, just like in the offline world, perfectly normal people. But, just like outside the Web, not everybody is normal. Among the players some will be looking for something else than simply playing, or some might have the need to control or dominate other people, or some might be sore losers. It is important for minors to relate to people of all ages in these videogames, and to respect the basic safety rules they must apply to all virtual activities. This means protecting their own identity and not giving any personal data that would lead to their identification or physical location. “It is great to meet people, relate to others and have fun, but under no circumstance should you say who you are in reality or where you really live, and you must never provide other players with your true e-mail or with images or pictures of yourself”. It is not necessary, not at all. It is a good idea to create a specific e-mail account for the game, where other players may send a guide, additional information about the game or snapshots of the most remarkable moves. In this kind of situations there is a phrase that becomes totally true: “anything you say may be used against you”.
All players are equal in the game, apart from the exceptions I mentioned above, but the truth is that occasionally there are situations of harassment against a specific gender or even racism or xenophobia. From time to time there appear in these games’ chat rooms individuals who start insulting or threatening others for no good reason, and also people who set up alliances where people of a different race or country are not accepted, or where any other groups of people are rejected. Some of the comments are unedifying, as is also the case of harassment situations.
DEVELOPING NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
In a study I mention in another entry of this blog, nearly 100% of the players recognised having experienced feelings and emotions while playing. Among them, at least 50% admitted having felt rejection, anger and even hatred towards other players, and 25% had even felt distress, anxiety or fear. Of course, positive feelings also appeared in 75% of cases. That is to say, most players do not only enjoy the game and have fun playing, but they also feel joy and other positive emotions. But negative emotions are also present, and in some cases they may upset the player.
I could mention a few more negative consequences, most of them derived from the list above, but I think I have highlighted the main risks associated to this game. Considering both the positive and the negative aspects, each person should come to his/her own conclusion about it. Nevertheless, with regards to minors, I believe it is not worth taking the risk of them suffering from those negative aspects. Therefore, when it comes to minors, the adult responsible for them or their parents should have a key role. It is important to limit the time they spend on the game and agree on certain times or schedules and comply with them. It is also important to control expenditure, as this may be a problem by itself, and above all it may also become a sign of other problems. In your iPad, you should enter “SETTINGS”, then “GENERAL” and “RESTRICTIONS”, and activate the feature “request password for purchases”. And it is also very important that they respect basic safety and privacy rules when they relate to other players in the chat room.
If these three issues are supervised by an adult, the minor’s experience with this kind of videogames will probably be very positive. But, without such supervision, any of the aforesaid problems could come up.