Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Land of Me

Do your children play video games / computer games? Do you think they're the root of all evil or do you love the creativity behind them? It may come as a surprise to you, considering how we value outdoor play and interaction with our children, that Cubling has been playing on the computer a lot recently.

Thanks to my computer games playing and formerly games programming husband, with his years of gaming experience and seventh sense for discovering the best games there are, we came across the Land of Me. It came recommended as a game suitable for 2-6 year olds, and was said to support early learning. So we downloaded the free version. We liked it so much that I cheekily asked the people behind the Land of Me if we could get the full version in return for a review on this blog - and they agreed! We were rather happy about this as Cubling had asked Santa for the Land of Me for her Christmas, but we weren't sure if the additional chapters would be worth their £30 price tag.

The Land of Me - Trailer from Made in Me on Vimeo.

I absolutely have to start this review with the visuals and the audio. The game creates the most calming of atmospheres, with beautiful visuals that lead you into the magical Land of Me and its inhabitants. It's like a picture book come alive. The soundscape contributes by using calming and relaxing tunes. It is instantly appealing and far removed from quick and flashy games for older children. It manages to create the right pace for exploration for a pre-schooler. Cubling too loves the imagery, she tells us all about the maps and where she goes next.

The structure of the game is simple and basically gives the child choices which are then combined to create something unusual which hopefully stretches their imagination. It is all non scary, just unusual and funny. Even Cubling, who is easily scared, isn't scared by even the biggest "monster" she creates, because all is bright and colourful, non-threatening, beautiful, gentle and loveable. The options given for making the choices expand vocabulary and pre-school knowledge, such as colours, shapes, size, and many other categories. Plus there's even a Scottish dance instructor hidden somewhere, which we found rather sweet.

It works a treat that the functions are all intuitive. Compare it to CBeebies Games, where we often have to read and explain what she needs to press and in which order, where the button to be clicked is and whether something else needs moved with the mouse or double clicked, The Land of Me is intuitive. Cubling is in charge and she knows what to do, and she found it out by herself. By playing it she has now got a great handle on the mouse and clicking, giving her some early computer literacy but also independence in using the computer.

What's more, she doesn't spend hours at a time on the game. She'll play for 30 minutes max, mostly with one of us, and then change to something else. I think this is because the structure is repetitive, which is great for learning but doesn't lead to overstimulation and long hours in front of the screen. What's more is that she uses the game to verbalise what she's seen, so it is definitely an experience she likes to talk about and share.

She's (ehm, actually, we've) played a fair bit on it now and we reckon that she will get at least 30 hours of play out of this before getting bored of it, and that's just the game play. Add to this the wealth of off screen activities that come with it, which really takes the game further and makes it into a starting point rather than an end point. This to me translates to very good value for money for this game. You can also support early literacy for the older child and there are printouts for 100 printed activities away from the screen, including colouring sheets, games, and ideas for crafts. If you'd like to find out a bit more and meet the makers, why not check out Made in Me and an interview with James Huggins, who is behind the Land of Me (and also a dad to two children). I can also recommend you follow the Made in Me blog which isn't just about computer games but keeps you up to date with anything to do with early learning and recommended creative toys. There can be no doubt, the people behind Made in Me are passionate about nurturing children's creativity and learning through creativity.

I so wished that it had different language options so that Cubling could play it in German too. But with a game that has speaking voices, because it's aimed at pre-literate children or children just starting out to read, this is probably too much to ask. But if it isn't - I'm asking ;)

In summary, it's a beauty. Both my computer games loving husband and me, the book worm wife love it. Oh, and Cubling too, lest I forget. I can only recommend you download the free trial and see for yourself. By purchasing the full version, or even one chapter at a time (at £6.95) you'll be supporting some top class British games design. We wouldn't be worse off for more of such gems of games.



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