Subtitle: Research for Developing Kid-Friendly Social Gaming Experiences
Carla Engelbrecht Fisher is a colleague of mine I have worked with on a few educational gaming research projects at Sesame Workshop. She's awesome, and she's a PhD candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has spoken about kids and games at GDC twice before, and the slides from those presentations (as well as this one) are available on her website.
Look at developmental milestone knowledge for your target age group before you design, don't just do testing afterward. But also remember that individual kids in age groups do vary.
Social gaming for kids ≠ Facebook. Kids under 13 aren't usually on Facebook. Hurdles include parent permission, COPPA, reading skills. Social gaming for kids DOES mean, two kids in one room playing together, Club Penguin type online games, ARGs, The Amanda Project.
Preschoolers: Egocentric "look at me!" manual dexterity is improving, but looking at screen while pressing or moving something in hands without looking at it can be tough. Learning feelings and what to do about them, how to interact with others and how they feel. Play with parents, jigsaw puzzles. Check out The Hidden Park and Panwapa.
5 to 8 years old: Beginning to read independently, increasing attention span, still struggling to understand others' point of view. Rules based play. Concrete operations for rules and perspective taking (thinking of outcomes of different moves in games), learning cooperation.
9 to 12 years old: Girls begin to show strong preference for social activities of traditional games. 40% of waking time is with peers. Check out 39 Clues, Pokemon.
13 years+: Adult preferences for gaming emerges. Prefer adult mechanics, use of abstract logic, tend to choose friends similar to themselves. Getting into IM and SMS. See Cathy's Book, The Amanda Project. Girls at this age are very social.
Peer relations: Kids do not just befriend anyone. 2 types: aggregate, dyadic (recpirocated). Shared interest in same toy, game. Kids with high self-esteem, successful in school or sports are more likely to have more friends. Friends help negotiate unfamiliar situations in life: bullying, divorce, relationships. Girls are really likely to help one another, esp. through difficulties that have experienced themselves.
Displacement effect: Not completely true that kids who play a lot of video games don't go outside, don't play sports. Playing time with friends online increases the time you spend with them outside the game. (Become more social at school, etc). Friendships can build arround games like DDR.
Prosocial development: When someone else is upset, young child will bring security blanket to share with them. Young children can identify different positive emotions more than negative. Prosocial behavior should be modeled to foster postive development. Those raised to cooperate are more likely to do it. It's a cultural thing. Rural kids are more cooperative than urban ones. Rewards can inadvertently cause competition. Cooperative platforms: Super Mario Bros Wii & Little Big Planet, but might need additional scaffolding to foster cooperative behavior.