Being “Dad” to my two wonderful daughters has been the absolute best time of my life. A particularly fun part of the experience has been the unexpected little life lessons that parenting has taught me along the way. One example of this is the power of playing a game.
As any experienced parent will tell you, the ability to reframe otherwise potentially mundane but necessary activities or lessons as games can be a critical tool in the parental toolbox. For example, my ability to credibly convince my child to race me in putting her toys back on the shelf is sometimes pivotal to having my daughter clean up her toys quickly and happily, as opposed to begrudgingly picking up, at the rate of one toy every five minutes or so, with a sulky look on her face.
Mary Poppins knew this to be true. She says so in the movie, right before she belts out “Spoon Full Of Sugar” and gets those kids to clean up their nursery (although Ms. Poppins also uses so many magical finger-snaps to do the job that the parent in me sometimes gets flat out resentful). Anyways, bottom line: games work. Children, and all people really, are more receptive when they believe they are playing a game that engages their attention.
The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity is traditionally referred to as “gamification”. Unruly Splats leverage concepts of gamification to transform coding from a boring, static, mundane activity, into something that is colorful, fun, active, engaging, and perhaps most importantly – makes coding into a game.
Unruly Splats, together with the Splats App, allow young users to build their own games and sequences. The developers at Unruly Studios have released a number of challenges that users can engage with to get their Splats to perform in certain ways and attempt to solve the challenge and/or win the game. I can definitively state from eyeball experience that young kids eat the process up. My daughter loves her Splats and loves exploring different challenges to test her skills and win. Of course, were I to try to teach her coding in another context, even if I tried one of the several colorful, ostensibly kid-friendly interfaces available on the market, I would get an eyeroll and she would tune me out. No interest. “BORRRING” as she would say. But her Splats are not like that. My daughter does sit and build code on her Splats App, but then she uploads it to her paired Splats and is up on her feet, stomping on the Splats to provoke responses or score points or win the game that she has built.
I am so proud and impressed with her budding coding skills and her enthusiasm for the product. I have however, been quietly brainstorming how to approach her about coding a relay race with her Splats to further entice her to continue cleaning up her toys in the spare room. Now that she has Splats to play with I will have to up my game.