It’s made an enormous difference in my kids’ lives and I wish it had been around when they were much younger. But there’s one huge problem with it... the apps are too damn accessible.
I’ve spent years teaching the kids that:
- Games cost money
- You can’t just get new games every day
- You need to save up for games or get them as gifts
Then along comes the iPad and lo and behold, games don’t cost money! You can get new games every day! You don’t need to save up for them! Now the only thing standing in the way of new games was having to enter a passcode to download them.
So things were getting a little out of control. The temptation to just go and get another app stopped them from really delving into any one game deeply enough to figure out how to play it, and they were downloading so many that they quickly ran out of storage space. The restrictions that had applied before (money and time) had been replaced by ones that were much harder to understand.
So here’s how we solved the problem.
When you’ve got a device that’s thinner than a book and contains the entire world, it’s hard to get your head around the idea that you can run out of room to store stuff. So I started by explaining that inside the iPad there’s a tiny chip that holds all of the information we download. Even though it can hold a lot of information, it can only hold a certain amount and if we download too many apps it will get full.
Then I grabbed a cardboard box and said “Imagine that this is the chip inside the iPad.”
I started filling the box with Wii game cases, to show them what happens when we download apps. When the box was full, I picked up another game case and said “Hmm. This game won’t fit. What am I going to do?” They both immediately said “Take one of the other games out”.
Rationing new apps
I needed to curtail the number of new games they were downloading and reduce their anxiety about having an unlimited treasure trove of possibilities in their face all the time, so I created App Day. The first day of the month is set aside for getting new apps, and this is the only day on which they’re allowed to do that. They’re allowed to spend $10 or get 10 free apps between them, and if there’s no space then they have to delete older apps before they get the new ones. So they have to be choosy, and this has become an awesome lesson for them.
Every month they spend three weeks deciding which apps to get. And I mean they literally spend three weeks doing it, you wouldn’t believe how much discussion and research and negotiation goes into their selections. Along the way they’re learning valuable skills like:
- How to choose what to spend your money on
- How to detect which apps are crap
- How to get the best value for your money
They came up with their own methods for figuring out whether an app would make it onto the list - reading reviews, looking at the comments of other users and trying out the free version first. It's a great lesson in being a savvy consumer.
Forcing them to be more choosy about their apps has also led to some really interesting discussions on the economics of e-play, like why apps cost less than a Wii game for example. We talked about the effects of production and distribution costs, how games are marketed, where they’re sold, the size of the audience and how many people you need to employ. All of these are really important topics for their chosen career as budding game makers.
Another interesting offshoot has been in-depth discussions of game ratings and censorship. Being autistic, both of them can have intense special interests and game/film ratings is one of them. Having to wait a whole month to get their new apps has given us more time to talk about them, and often that means detailed discussions of the ratings and justifications about why certain apps aren’t appropriate. On our walk-and-talks, we chat about objective and subjective points of view (people experience games differently so ratings can never truly be objective) and the effects of anthropomorphism (games where the characters seem more human are considered more violent that those where you blast a cube into smithereens).
So this is another time when something that was a huge pain in the ass has turned around to be a fantastic learning experience for all of us. There’s probably an appropriate inspirational quote to go with that, but I can’t be bothered looking for one. Instead I’ll leave you with this. It's what the boys say to each other as they hand over the iPad at the end of their turn...
"Apps. Very dangerous. You go first."
Image from Flickr user ntr23