“There are interesting avenues within gaming, as far as creativity spaces, where you're able to build and create statues and artwork and build interesting challenges. There’s the ability to have creativity to it.” ~ Trevor Alexander
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. During the last few years the gaming and esports industry has exploded. Did you know that esports viewership rivals traditional sports? Professional gamers are earning big salaries and prize money. Today many colleges are offering varsity esports and awarding more than 15 million in scholarships annually. So I guess this means your kid isn't pulling your leg when they tell you they can earn a scholarship playing Fortnite. To answer a growing need, middle schools and high schools around the country are opening up opportunities to have safe gaming leagues. Where students can hone their skills and experience a supported and monitored esports experience. 72% of all students are playing these games. Desiring to harness that passion and enthusiasm school leagues are organized to train and develop a wide variety of skills. They offer a way to connect socially with other students in improve school performance and prepare for the future.
Trevor Alexander is a UI/UX designer, a father and an avid gaming fan. He says that becoming a father and raising kids could be complicated when we add a complex media like video games to the equation. As a lifelong gamer, Trevor grew up playing video games and has kept an eye on the industry. He chronicles his adventures of fatherhood in gaming with a friend on a seven year old weekly podcast called New Dad Gaming. Today his experience may shed some light on how to navigate the landscape in your home. Mr. Trevor Alexander, welcome to the K12 On Learning podcast.
Trevor Alexander: Wonderful. So happy to be here.
Heidi Higgins: Nice to have you. We invited you here to talk today a little bit about gaming and esports. Can you share a little bit about your background?
Trevor Alexander: Oh, of course. So as far as a day to day perspective I'm a UI/UX designer. So I design websites, applications, anything you might use on your mobile phone. So much so that I actually wrote a book called An Ugly Design Career, just trying to help other people trying to get into the UI/UX space, build a very strong career. But besides that one of my hobbies and passions is a podcast I've run with a good friend of mine Jeff for seven years. Basically, ever since my son was born premise of which being what does it look like for a father who wants to continue to enjoy video games? And what does it mean when his own child or children begin playing games as well? So it's all the trials and tribulations of two fathers trying to figure out their gaming lives.
Heidi Higgins: What a fun topic, where you can talk about from the day to day to the stuff that you love as a hobby how wonderful. I want to ask you a little bit about your career before we go on your book is called the Ugly Design Career. Can you tell us why you called it that?
Trevor Alexander: Yeah, I suppose for a bit of shock value. Because you think about design and it's anything but ugly, if anything that's a pure pursuit of the opposite. So what I've ultimately found though is designers often focus so narrowly on the pretty stuff, on the beautiful and become so headstrong in barreling down at that particular part that they leave out the rest of the career. The compromises, the relationships, the working with clients, working with coworkers, late hours getting things finished. So that's what I would call the ugly portion of it. So it's sort of a shock to kind of bring people into my way of thinking that the way to produce a truly strong and robust design career is not so much the output. Of course, you have to produce good designs. That's just your bread and butter, that's table stakes. Really what you need to do to focus on to have a strong career is all those ugly portions of it. In so doing you'll really find your value and find yourself being highly sought after.
Heidi Higgins: Excellent. We have students who will look at different careers and so wanted to give them some information about the things that you do. UI stands for the user interface, right? So is it part engineering? Did you go to school for engineering?
Trevor Alexander: I went to school for visual merchandising, which was the arrangement of elements inside of a store to best help the store's goal. But it had one little section on graphic design and I just absolutely excelled at that. From there so much so I was able to get my first graphic design job and just kind of took off there, especially within the startup space. So yeah, the UI and UX career it is unbelievably fantastic. An exciting dynamic, interesting, highly sought after and demand and you get to work with incredibly smart people, many you who go into engineering schools of course.
Heidi Higgins: Excellent. Well, thank you. I appreciate that window into what you do for a living day to day and then let's get into this podcast specialty of yours, the gaming. Can you share with our families the difference between gaming and esports?
Trevor Alexander: Oh, of course and then I think that I'd like to bring it back to a sport's analogy because I think it works very well in the space. It's very much the difference between kicking a soccer ball around in a field versus playing professionally in a team or insert your sport of choice be it hockey, football, baseball, whatever it is. So games itself are just a fun, interactive medium on any major systems, they can be played anywhere but it's just a fun digital pastime. The esports is very much again, that kind of next level as far as sporting. Where you're taking these video games but playing them competitively in tournaments or streaming them online that ultimately has money behind it. So it's tournaments, it's leagues as far as teams that compete over an entire season to win a championship much like NHL or NFL or in tournaments. As far as big cash prizes for a bunch of teams that are vying against each other, to the streaming of it. Where somebody is able to put together a product where people will pay to watch them play the game.
So they're making a living by playing video games because they're bringing some unique characteristic to where people want to tune in. So it's very much the professionalization and monetization of video games.
Heidi Higgins: We have a lot of students who are interested in gaming. In fact, we host some gaming platforms and opportunities for students to get in and really learn how to do it as a team and as an individual. What is the benefit of learning how to be a gamer?
Trevor Alexander: A lot can be learned from video games. There was much attention paid to the dark side, the negativity of gaming. So those things are well known as far as a lack of physical health, addiction, games above all else affecting other parts of your life. But there can be I think some very good benefits to it if it's kept on a healthy track much like any hobby ultimately. So I think you can build a social network. So especially coming out of the pandemic, it was shown to be very advantageous to have this online community of friends where when you can't be in person you can still be with each other. There's interesting avenues within gaming as far as creativity, spaces where you're able to build and create statues and artwork and build interesting challenges and ability to have creativity to it. Problem solving. So games will present unique and interesting kind of challenges that they can overcome. So how do you beat this level? How do you solve this riddle? Teaching also a certain sense of tenacity.
Where if at first it isn't readily available, try again, try one more time, how else can you do this? There's a really grand community online for how to solve problems. So the research part of it, how do I beat this? How do I craft this particular item? Well, I'll go online and I'll Google search. I'll research it and figure of different ways to do it interacting with a community and I think it speaks a lot about sportsmanship. So as someone's playing these games and they're winning and they're losing, there's great lessons to be had. So how do you take a loss? How do you learn from it? How do you lose well? Congratulate the winner. How do you win well? How do you not take a victory and rub it in someone else's face? So I think if someone goes in with their eyes wide open understanding that there are pitfalls to this hobby, much like many other hobbies there can be some really great benefits for people.
Heidi Higgins: I was part of a group that took a team to a competition, an esports competition a few years ago and it was interesting to note that students of all abilities had a place. Including a spokesperson, someone who could speak about what's going on. Can you address that kind of opportunity?
Trevor Alexander: I think it's quite varied. So obviously the paramount version of it would be the player, somebody who's in the competition, they're very good at games and they're able to win. But surrounding that, there's so many interesting opportunities. There are the team managers, there are coaches, there are digital asset or social media managers for the team as they get built, like HR. There could be commentators, there's a whole wave of fairly popular commentators. People who just speak about the game, talking about what's going on screen again much like other professional sports, holding tournaments as well. If you think about a professional sports organization, pick any NBA team and you think about the vast network of people that it requires to bring together any of those events. The same thing happens within the gaming community as well and then not only that too, is if someone has more of a creative bent as opposed to a execution bent on actually being able to play the game. Building games is obviously a very fun and highly sought after career. So the entire space of video games can be much more than just playing.
Heidi Higgins: You have children that you get to sit beside and watch them learn and develop and walk into this world of gaming and esports and just video game exploration. What's that been like as a father?
Trevor Alexander: It's been great. Well, I come obviously with a certain bias. Having grown up with video games and myself enjoying it as a hobby, to see my kids take up the hobby as well has been obviously small joy for myself of course but I'll put in my bias of it. However, I think many parents would agree that it's so great to meet them where they are and in that place help impart lessons and kind of bring them along a better path. So as we're sitting and playing these games they will come up against a challenge and in such moment I can encourage them, try again, think about a different way. What else could you do? And viewing that sense of tenacity. I can correct them if they have an overabundance of enthusiasm after they win and it's like there's something called being good winner, a good loser. If they lose and they get upset and toss down the controller, that's not a great expression of the anger you're currently feeling. So let's work through that.
So by being a part of it, meeting them where they are there's just countless opportunities that arise in being able to impart wisdom upon them and then guide them down a better path. One of my most favorite ones is understanding that their passion for it. We've actually been able to push in a lot of learning and actually I have two examples of this. One is my older son is learning to read, so classically he couldn't play some games because there's a lot of text involved and he'd have to work with me to do it. However, with a few titles especially this Zelda title reading is an integral part and you have to read the instructions of where you're supposed to go. So very often I'll sit with him and we kind of work through the text. It's his opportunity for him to practice his reading, it gives him this... Because there's all these extra games he can play and another one of my favorite ones is we're in summertime here at the moment. So kids are out of school and we're trying to manage their screen time.
So they're not just inside the entire day and one thing we've found is we use that motivation to again progress as learning. Where video games are great after everything else is completed. You've behaved while you've done your chores, you've helped on the house, you've been polite. At this stage we can do gaming and at night the arrangement we've made is, all right if you come to the table and you read one French book... Because he's learning a second language. And do some math problems with me then you can have 30 more minutes of games at night. So it comes to the point where after dinner he's like, "Oh, could I do my homework now? Because I want a game." And he's so enthused about it and you're kind of just almost tricking them into a bit of extra education.
Heidi Higgins: I love that. That's a parent tool that works pretty well.
Trevor Alexander: Absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: And gaming is a great carrot. So it helps a lot to dangle that right in front of them, it helps. It's important to set boundaries when we introduce video games and any form of esports to our students. What kind of titles are to be avoided? I think it's called the Entertainment Software Rating Board, is the one who decides what the ratings are. What do we know about that and what do you recommend parents look for?
Trevor Alexander: Yeah, of course. That's a fairly good baseline. I think it's a lot like movies. I think some of my fun memories as a child is when your 14 but your dad lets you watch the 17 plus movie. Because he understands that's like... To be incredibly prudent you probably shouldn't be watching, but we'll just tweak the rules a little bit. I only say that to say it's a wonderful baseline and then you'll make decisions based on what you know of the game and you know of your children. But it's a great little baseline, so it goes from E for everyone, E plus 10. So 10 year olds plus and then 17, so 17 year olds and then mature. So obviously if it has a mature rating, it's going to have things like violence, sexuality, bad depictions, everything else you want to avoid that from the younger gamers of course. Now, even with that though just it really goes a long way to understand the game.
You don't have to play it, you don't have to be good at it to understand it. But a cursory look at some reviews online on YouTube especially is wonderful for this. You can kind of see what they're doing in game and get a sense of like, okay what does this involve? Is this something that I want my child to be part of? You'll know your child and you'll know your household and you can make the best decisions from that. But you'll generally obviously want to avoid gratuitous violence. I do find a bit of a distinction between what I'd almost call cartoony violence. Where characters kind of bumping another one, much like a loony tunes from like when we were kids,. Where technically that's violence, but it's silly slap stick type of stuff. So you want to be avoid violence, obviously sexuality. You'd want to be careful with online play, very specifically a lot of games they'll have you being able to play with other players and even that can be fun if it's contained within a certain context.
What you really want to avoid is live connections, live connections is much like if they can have a direct chatline with your child or if there's kind of text chat somewhere else in there. That can be problematic. Of course, because then at that point you've lost certain control of what your kid is seeing because someone else has it. So two things to know is either fine games that don't have it, none of that online connectivity or they have it so you can turn it off. So a lot of games will come with parental controls where it's let them play, but don't let them talk to anyone online and then it's safe. I think the ESRB ratings gives a great baseline, but then just do a little bit of homework to see what they're getting into and you'll be able to make smart decisions for your kids.
Heidi Higgins: I like earlier that you mentioned that YouTube was a good place to go to take a look at what the game is and get a flavor for what is offered and what is displayed. Excellent resource. Gaming and esports has some benefits for YouTube because you can keep up that hobby and introduce it to your children as you mentioned. What is a good and appropriate age and what should we kind of start with? If we're interested in introducing our children to some of these learning opportunities and games for kids.
Trevor Alexander: Again, I think that it's going to vary a little bit. I never like blanket answers for everyone. But so for instance my youngest, he's just turning five. He's terribly into Minecraft just loves it and the creativity he's shown in it as far as what he builds. He'll come to me, bursting into the office often like... I had to tell them for this interview to please try not to and I don't guarantee they won't burst in. But he'll burst in just desperate to show me the newest creation, a statue that he's built, a new house, a bridge or whatever else. So even at his age of five he's already kind of engaged and loving, loving the expansive Lego like nature of some of these worlds. When they were younger my kids, we had them play a few tablet games and there's a few interesting dexterity ones. Where it was shape and color recognition. Where it's bring this shape over to here and then sort these by colors.
So it was both working kind of a dexterity as far as their fingers and then starting to work their mind on a pattern recognition. So we enjoyed some of those things. So there's kind of those almost mindless tablet stuff. But then as I start to get into 4, 5, 6, 7, perhaps introduce into some softer family friendly titles. I won't go so far as I call them educational, but at least ones that have opportunities for critical thinking, problem solving challenges that would sort of prompt them into the directions you'd want to go.
Heidi Higgins: When we talk about balance and not having the student in front of the computer all the time. What are some things that we can encourage families to look out for and maybe en encourage in the child?
Trevor Alexander: Yeah. It's just like anything else. I think gaming has a particular hook that can be dangerous because it is very much built as a dopamine product where it is incredibly fun. It is incredibly engaging. Some of the worst titles honestly will be built almost specifically to give people hooks that will want them to continue to play more and more and more. To bring Fortnite in as an example, there'll be daily challenges. To get such and such reward. You must complete these six challenges and if the child hasn't completed those yet it's a fear of missing out like, oh no I'm not going to get my challenges done. So they'll want to play more and more and more. But much like any other thing if a child was reading is obviously fantastic, that's amazing. But if they're reading for 12 hours a day, it's a problem. TV watching, even playing some sports you could overtrain. Right? I don't mean to equate those. Those aren't quite the same things of course. But just to say that too much of anything can be bad.
So accordingly you'll want to set an amount of time that's going to work for the child where they're still being happy, productive, social and everything else. If they're starting to not have friends anymore because they're playing so many video games that's a clear sign that like, okay we got to change. In our household we had a scenario where my oldest had started to have some issues at school that teacher had reached out and he wasn't quite as enthusiastic as he had been and one thing we did was. During the week he was allowed a little bit of video game time after supper and that's something we removed and we just sat down and had the explanation that video games are wonderful. I like playing games, I like playing games with you. But your school is incredibly important and we're speaking with your teacher and you're not hitting the marks you need to. So until that gets in place you will not have video games during the week. We're going to have that as a weekend thing now. Video games are a wonderful additive after the rest of everything has been taken care of.
In his case, actually he snapped right up. He actually started to do much better in school then that change sort of did it. So I think it's a great hobby, it's a lot of fun. It has some really interesting potential as far as the esports like we've kind of been talking about. But it's to be done in moderation and to make sure that it's not at the detriment of anything else and that's one of those kind of fun family balances. But I think again what's great is if the parent is involved and is in the mix and it's kind of this open flat line conversation. It's not so much that I hate games so you will not play games. It's more the effect that school is very important, you know it's important and it's not going well. So we're going to have to shift some things until we achieve the balance we need and I think with those kind of honest conversations coming from an informed place, I think the answers can be made pretty clear.
Heidi Higgins: Excellent answer. Thank you for addressing that. Obviously the relationship between you and your children has been a gift from this hobby of yours. It enhances your career and you've turned it into a great podcast opportunity. I think that it's pretty nice to be able to see the things that you have been able to build. So thank you for your example.
Trevor Alexander: Oh, very happy to. It's been great. One of the secrets is of our longevity. So as I said seven years every week, but one of the tiny secrets of it in many ways it's personal in that it's kind of a diary. If you could think back to your parents and get kind of insight into what they were thinking about when you were four, when you were 12, when you were six, it would be fascinating I thought. As much as we absolutely adore our fans, it's so much fun to talk with everybody. It's wonderful to talk about video games in this kind of fun light but positive light. But ultimately at the end, it's also just a kind of secret diary that we'll give to our kids one day of here's what was going on when you were four. It was pretty wild days Bran.
Heidi Higgins: How fun to have a dad's voice talk about his life and the children's lives and what he loves in addition.
Trevor Alexander: Yeah. Some days aren't going to be so fun that he'll listen to, but that's okay. I'll take the good with the bad.
Heidi Higgins: Very good. Any last advice that you could offer families who see their children very fascinated and drawn to these games?
Trevor Alexander: Of course, I think it's really just do not feel like you have to understand it fully. The thing to understand is their passion, their joy and their enthusiasm for it. You just have to be present. A lot of times I'll see my wife struggle with it, she doesn't come from any type of gaming background. Just ask questions. They'll tell you about something they built. You want to be a vessel for that enthusiasm, so they'll come to you with any of their gaming related things. Maybe you don't have to do an answer, but that's not the point. "Hey dad, I built such and such in Minecraft." "Oh, interesting was it hard?" "Oh, well then I did this and this." "Well, what did that add?" "Well, then I was able to..." You don't have to understand the in and outs of Minecraft and the inner workings of a particular mechanic. What you need to understand is that they're enthusiastic about it. They want to talk to you about it and by being a vessel for that enthusiasm you impart yourself inside of it and then thereby are able to guide them in a better way.
You're seen as someone who is supportive of them, is enthusiastic for them, wants them to go well and you'll be sought after as part of their adventures for it. It is an intimidating space, there's a lot to learn. I'm in this weekly and I'm vastly uninformed on many aspects of this industry and of this hobby. So don't think you have to know everything to be involved and just be present and I think you'll find a lot of opportunities for really beneficial interactions with your kids.
Heidi Higgins: Trevor Alexander, thank you so much for this advice and we will include the links to your podcast and some other things that you provided for us. We're looking forward to working with our children and following that example of being that vessel. That not only will they come to you for gaming questions, but maybe other questions that will be coming down the pike here. Thank you so much for your time today.
Trevor Alexander: Absolute pleasure. Thank you.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, Stride Career Prep programs that foster lifelong learning or any of the private school or individual course offerings. Please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Special thanks to Treekay Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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