Better Parenting Though Games

Question: How can parents find the right games for learning?

Katie Salen: The first thing I would say, and I do tell parents this: Just figure out what it is your kid is interested in.  And also what are the kinds of things that they may be struggling with.  So, if there’s a child that is struggling with a certain way of conceiving of complex problems.  So maybe they’re struggling in math a little bit.  There’s a lot of different kinds of games that give kids practice in ordering certain kinds of problems, working through certain sequences of logic.  Maybe there’s a kid that has a passion around sports.  Okay, sports games are a great opportunity for them to get in there and play with their friends, but also gain some facility around the technology. 

And so mostly it has to do with trying to match an interest that our child might have with what a game might be offering. Not just in terms of content, but also in the type of game.  So if you have a kid that is, let’s say is really interested in, and I’ll go back to the math and engineering.  There’s a whole genre of games about building stuff.  That might be a great genre of game for that kid.  There may be a kid that’s interested—very detailed oriented kind of type A personality kid—real time strategy games are a great genre of games for those kids.  And those are games where you are managing complex sets of resources in a simulation environment and try to advance toward a particular kind of goal. 

Maybe you have a kid that’s really creative and interested in more open-ended kind of exploration.  There’s a whole genre of adventure games that might be really good for that particular kind of child.  So it just really has to do with what the situation is.

Question:
How can parents participate in their kids' games?

Katie Salen: Well, the most important thing we know from a learning perspective is talk.  So, kids that grow up in households where they don’t have an opportunity to talk with parents about what they’re doing, the kids tend to struggle in many ways because they haven’t again been given the opportunity to practice with the language, with using words, with putting together complex ideas, with creating arguments.  So the simplest and biggest thing a parent can do with a child is to sit down and play with them.  Play the game with them, talk with them about what they’re doing, prompt them, ask them questions.  Kids love it when the parent asks them to show—that the kid will show the parent how to do something. 

We have a program at the Institute of Play called Playforce where we bring in kids from third grade up to college and they play test games for us.  And they tell us what they think are valuable about the games. And what we found is with some of the younger kids that the moms started coming in with the kids and they would sit next to them and start to play, and there was a radical change in the relationship; a.) between the parent’s understanding of what their kids were learning from these games and b.) just in the relationship between the parent and their child, as the child became an expert in explaining to the mom what they were doing, what they were learning, how to play the game.  And so that’s a really powerful role that you can put your child in, is letting them be the teacher and letting them share with you what it is they find so interesting about this thing that they’re doing.  And it has consequences in terms of their potential for future learning.

Recorded May 7, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

Communication is key for effective parenting. The simplest and biggest thing a parent can do with a child is to sit down and play with them.

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Sex robot brothel in Texas sparks controversy and ethical questions

Some say the proliferation of sex robots could lead to less demand for prostitution, but not all agree.

Will the proliferation of sex robots be a net good or bad for society? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Sex & Relationships
  • A Toronto-based sex robot brothel plans to open another location in Houston.
  • Some critics argue that the proliferation of sex robots would lead to increases in prostitution and sex trafficking.
  • Others say that such technology could help some people find a degree of much-needed companionship.

There are currently no laws against opening a sex robot brothel in Houston, though recently announced plans to open one inspired some residents to say there should be.

The owner of Kinky S Dolls, a Toronto-based company where $120 gets customers 80 minutes alone with a robotic sex doll that moves and talks, plans to open another location in the Houston area. It would be the first sex robot brothel in the U.S.

On advice from counsel, owner Yuval Gavriel doesn't call his business a 'sex robot brothel' but rather a kind of try-it-before-you-buy-it shop for realistic sex dolls, which he sells for $2,000 to $5,000.

"I consulted with a lawyer and the lawyer said, 'Listen, there are no rules to it, but if you are smart you don't go out and say you are operating a brothel,'" Gavriel told the Washington Examiner. "He went through all the laws and all of the regulations and currently there are no regulations for this kind of service. The States is a bigger market, and a healthier market, and God bless Trump."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls for about $3,500.

Sex dolls and toys may be legal in the U.S., but some believe that establishing what's essentially a robot sex brothel would cross a line. In response to Gavriel's plans, Elijah Rising, a Christian organization in Houston that combats sex trafficking, published a petition titled 'Keep Robot Brothels Out Of Houston'.

"As a nonprofit whose mission is to end sex trafficking we have seen the progression as sex buyers go from pornography to strip clubs to purchasing sex—robot brothels will ultimately harm men, their understanding of healthy sexuality, and increase the demand for the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children," reads the petition, which currently has nearly 6,000 signatures.

Elijah Rising's argument is based on a paper written by Kathleen Richardson, a professor of ethics and culture of robots at De Montfort University.

"I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe," Richardson argues in the paper. "If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects. Only the buyer of sex is recognised as a subject, the seller of sex (and by virtue the sex-robot) is merely a thing to have sex with."

How would sex robots affect rates of prostitution?

One argument, to which Gavriel subscribes, says that increased availability of sex robots would lower the demand for human prostitutes. It's an idea tangentially related to the longstanding body of research that shows countries tend to see decreases in sexual assaults and rape after they legalize porn.

In his bestselling book Love and Sex with Robots, A.I. researcher David Levy explores the future of human relationships with robots and suggests that sex robots could lower prostitution or even someday render it obsolete.

But that's "highly speculative philosophy," according to Richardson.

"The reality is that it will just become a new niche market within the pornography industry and within the prostitution trade," she said in an interview with Feminist Current. "If people buy into the idea that you can have these dolls as part of your sexual fetish, it will become another burden that actual living human beings will have to undergo in the commercial sex trade."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls.

Richardson elaborated on this idea in her paper.

"...studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of the sex industry," she wrote. "Prostitution and pornography production also rises with the growth of the internet. In 1990, 5.6 percent of men reported paying for sex in their lifetime, by 2000, this had increased to 8.8 percent."

However, those rates aren't necessarily causally linked.

Richardson also wrote that if sex toys, such as RealDolls and blow-up dolls, actually led to lower prostitution demand then we would have already seen decreases, but "no such correlation is found."

Still, that last point might soon become invalid as a sort of apples-to-oranges comparison if technology can produce artificially intelligent and lifelike sex robots unlike anything the industry has seen before.

An illusion of companionship

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Critics argue that the proliferation of sex robots would serve to reinforce the objectification of women in men's minds, and also reduce the ability for some men to empathize, a necessary component of healthy social interaction.

Houstonian Andrea Paul voiced a simpler objection to the brothel:

"There's kids around here and it's a family-oriented neighborhood and I live right here and to have that here is just gross."

Gross, sure. But to Matt McMullen, creator of the RealDoll, the future of sex robots looks a bit more uplifting.

"My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy," McMullen told CNET. "There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. It's really all about giving those people some level of companionship—or the illusion of companionship."

A controversial theory claims past, present, and future exist at the same time

Our experience of time may be blinding us to its true nature, say scientists.

Back to the Future.
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  • Time may not be passing at all, says the Block Universe Theory.
  • Time travel may be possible.
  • Your perception of time is likely relative to you and limited.
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