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Video game school

July 15, 2010

When it comes to video games, kids and parents don't always see eye to eye. The Leipzig Video Game School is hoping that by explaining to adults the benefits of video games, they can foster better relationships.

Close-up shot of an Xbox controller
Teaching old dogs new tricks for two years and countingImage: AP

Christoph Janisch is player number four – Shadow. At the moment though, he's a little out of his league. His eyes flash with disbelief, back and forth between the large screen and the small white controller in his hand. He presses each of the ten buttons on the gamepad at least once – and still Shadow doesn't seem to want to do what Janisch wants.

Christoph Janisch sits on a couch playing video games with his grandson and his grandson's friend
Christoph Janisch has quickly come around to the benefits of video gamesImage: Ronny Arnold

The Leipzig Video Game School, where Janisch has come to play and learn, has been around for almost two years, and is mainly targeted at parents and grandparents. It's designed to help them lose their fear of gaming technology and get to know their kids better. An instructor gives himsome pointers and, after a couple of false starts and a run-in with a wall, Janisch finally gets his car moving in the right direction.

When it comes to video games Christoph Janisch is a bit of a late bloomer. It took him 78 years before he even picked up a game controller. Next to him on the couch are the two responsible for bringing this agile senior here this afternoon: his grandson Toni and Toni's friend Johannes. Outside it's perfect beach weather – 33 degrees and sunny – but the two friends convinced Christoph to abandon the beautiful sunshine and come inside to play a few video games.

And as Grandpa battles his way through the game, Toni is visibly excited to see this new enthusiasm his grandfather is showing. Usually, he says, he only gets to play with his mom or dad.

"It's really great playing with Grandpa as well," he explains with a smile.

Paving the way for video game acceptance

Gabriele Heidecker, 52, sits with her two grandchildren Jonas and Melika just a couple of machines down. This is the tenth time here for these three, who've been coming twice a week. Eight-year-old Melika is excited to have a video game-playing grandma.

In fact, it was her grandmother's idea to come here. Anyone who brings there family can play two hours for free. Everyone else pays just one euro an hour to try out the latest video, computer and online games and consoles.

Claudia Philipp, who teaches media education at the University of Leipzig and is the current project head of the Video Game School. Her mission, as she sees it, is to broaden media literacy and allowing people to get acquainted with what kind of games there are, what types of genres there are.

"Because every genre is played differently. An example would be a strategy game, which is pretty difficult to just put down after 20 minutes," she said. "You can't put those kinds of rules on it.

Instead, according to Philipp, parents need to look at it differently. Perhaps setting up a weekly limit of a certain number of hours their kids are allowed to play and then letting the kids decide for themselves how they use that time.

Adult and child play a computer game together
The school wants parents to understand that games aren't just mindless entertainmentImage: Ronny Arnold

More than just mindless entertainment

Whether it's action and adventure, sport games, simulations, strategy or online games – parents and grandparents always have plenty of questions. Like which games are ideal of their children? How do protection systems work?

Philipp Wolfram, an intern at the school, helps parents search through video games and explains each of them. He says the one question that by far keeps coming up over and over is: why is my child so fascinated with this colorful imaginary world?

Wolfram says that's the question the Leipzig school was designed to answer. They want to help parents understand that their kids don't just see the shiny buttons, but that they also see the mechanics behind it all. How if you execute certain maneuvers, solve problems using things to help you along the way, then you get a reward, but you have to conform to a defined set of rules to move about in the game.

"Video games help with hand-eye coordination, you have to quickly adapt to new situations and quickly solve new problems," he said. "You have to be quick to get further in the game, to get to the next level. They promote logical thinking."

Man playing golf on the Nintendo Wii
Some gaming consoles have evolved, making them more interactiveImage: AP

Christoph Janisch, who is still in front of the screen, trying to throw his last bowling ball down the virtual lane, is certainly a testament to that. He skillfully twists the small, white wii remote in his hand, and presses the right button and just the right moment. Seven pins fall, three stay standing. Not bad, Christoph says smiling, for a 78-year-old. Their two hours are up for today. Toni and Johannes load up their backpacks while grandpa waits by the door.

"It was fun. Really stimulating and kind of brings you back to life," Janisch says, before heading out into the sunshine.

Author: Ronny Arnold / Mark Mattox
Editor: Cyrus Farivar