What Skylanders taught me about gaming
Why I think gaming might not be a terrible idea after all.

Up until about four weeks ago, my five-year-old son had never played a game on a console, and the last time I played a video game was probably in the days of Donkey Kong. It’s not that I don’t support fun and tech – my son has a tablet with tens of learning and entertainments apps, but they’re more wow than pow-wow, and frankly, I was a little afraid of the possible “violence” that awaited my child on his console screen.

So when I was invited to San Francisco with my son to find out more about the game Skylanders to celebrate the release of their newest game, Trap Team, and to visit the Toys for Bob studio, the makers of the game, I chuckled and got nervous. I knew more about the nearest Starbucks to my hotel, than gaming of any sorts, plus I wasn’t exactly an advocate of games.

So I Googled everything I could about Skylanders, and showed my son some of the YouTube trailers, and I searched for guns, explosions and crotch kicks, but I couldn’t find a thing. Rather, I found a very cool game that mixes the virtual world with the physical. How it works is that figurines are placed on the “portal of power” where they are imported into the game, to be controlled by the gamer.

Trap Team, the fourth game in the Skylanders series (among the top 20 highest-selling video game franchises), Trap Team has physical trap toys on a portal, where kids need to trap baddie Kaos and the evil Doom Raiders who have escaped from a Skylands holding area. Once trapped, players can return the villain to Skylands as a playable character. This cool new play pattern gives kids the option to switch between playing as a Skylanders hero or a villain at any time, creating a “tag team” gameplay for one player or more.
While my son is two years younger than the recommended playing age of seven, he took to it really well – both on the iPad, and a gaming device, and while there are written prompts in the game, it didn’t seem to bother him that he couldn’t read, and still progressed through the game.
On the safety side, Skylanders Trap Team has an ESRB (a rating given to all video games) of 10, indicating that it has comic violence and language.

What “sold” me though was meeting the makers of Skylanders and speaking to them about the game. Many of them are parents, and many said that when they made the game, they had their kids in mind – their safety, their entertainment, and their enjoyment. Many told me that they play Skylanders with their kids, and feel confident that their kids are exposed to awesome content.

I’m not sure I’m the next big gamer, but if anything, I’m more open to it, and can see the value of games that promote fun, the use of imagination, and strategic thinking. As for my son, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at the Toys for Bob offices one day, eating candy bars and developing another Skylanders installment…

Skylanders info

The video game, published by Activision, is launching on November 17. The game comes as a starter pack, which includes the Traptanium Portal, which allows kids to bring toys to life by teleporting real-world toys directly into the game for them to control. The pack includes two Skylanders Crystal Guardian figurines, two crystal traps, two character sticker sheets, two collectible trading cards, and a collector’s poster.

While prices vary between retailers, here are some recommended retail prices:

•    SKY TRAP TEAM – STARTER PACK (Console) – R1 000
•    SKY TRAP TEAM CHARACTER (remodeled characters) – R150
•    SKY TRAP TEAM TRAP MASTER (Trap Team Characters, Traptanium) – R200

Trap Team is available on the following platforms:

•    Nintendo Wii, Wii U, 3DS
•    Xbox 360 and Xbox One video game and entertainment system from Microsoft
•    PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 computer entertainment system
•    Apple iPad 3rd Generation, iPad 4th Generation, iPad Mini Retina, iPad Air
•    Kindle Fire HDX (7” & 8.9”)
•    Google Nexus 7 (2013)
•    Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (8.4”, 10.1”, 12.2”)
•    Samsung Galaxy Tab S (8.4”, 10.5”)
•    Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014), Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Tips for safe gaming

Try playing with your kids: You’ll not only be doing something fun together, but you’ll also be keeping tabs on what they’re doing, and you can share what you’re doing and learning.

Check the game’s ratings. ESRB has symbols for each game about what age the content is appropriate for.

Set guidelines: Just like with anything, there should be “rules” in place about how long your child spends playing, and when (eg on weekdays after homework, or weekends only).

Find out as much as you can about the game: Look for reviews online, and chat to other parents or kids to get a wider insight into the game.

Chat to your kids: When it comes to online gaming, kids need to know about potential “dangers” such as bullies and predators. Be aware that you might not always be able to control what content your kids come across, which is why I prefer console games.

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