The title is not a typo, and the similarity to FarmVille¹ is intentional. Games like FarmVille seem to have taken over Facebook, mobile devices, and the internet. Their popularity may wax and wane, but in the end, still they survive; in fact they thrive. This has not always been a good thing. Take for example the child in Florida who was shaken by his mother for interrupting her playing FarmVille. Of course, this is an extreme example of how a seemingly harmless game can create a lethal combination of obsession, misplaced priorities, and poor judgement.
¹[FarmVille is a simulation social network game developed by the company, Zynga.]
FamilyVille is my proposed healthy alternative to on-line games such as FarmVille. The name is one of the few similarities however. The clinical description: FamilyVille would have a strong educational component combined with incentives for self-reported behavioral changes. FamilyVille can teach parents about developmental milestones and their important role in promoting healthy development of children. Although the ‘target audience’ might be parents of newborns and young children, there is potential it could ‘grow’ or evolve as children grow.
In the virtual world of FamilyVille, users would input information about the age and development of their real world child, including any special interests or needs. This information could be used to guide their movement through various locations within FamilyVille, each packed with resources and information relevant to their child’s development. For instance, a destination within FamilyVille might be ToddlerTown, where parents could learn about developmental milestones such as potty training and how to deal with challenges like the ‘terrible twos’. There might be chat rooms where they could interact with professionals or other parents. In locations such as a LibraryLane parents could get reading lists and suggestions for activities.
The best part of FamilyVille would be that parents and families could earn points and badges which could be redeemed in the real world by documenting activities such as taking their child to the real world library or reading books together. For example, points earned in a NutritionNook could earn users discount coupons on items such as milk, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Families using LibraryLane might earn discounts at bookstores, to be used on children’s magazines, or to purchase educational apps for their electronic devices.
Badges might signify a higher level of learning that users could display in places like Facebook. Or it might offer the opportunity to serve as an ‘expert’ in chat rooms. Again, participation in these activities could earn even more points to be redeemed in the real world.
Of course, this would be designed to ensure participation does not interfere with real world parenting. There might be time limits and built-in incentives to interact with children. For instance, a parent might self-report in topics such as meal planning, reading with their child, or developmentally appropriate activities. This would earn more points to be redeemed. It might be that FamilyVille would have partnerships and input options to document activities. For instance, partnerships with libraries might allow library staff to input the titles of children’s books checked out or document participation in a children’s reading group. Or parents could submit UPC bar codes or Dewey Decimal system codes from books.
One major benefit of FamilyVille (and incentive to use it) would be the partnerships with a variety of outside vendors. Grocery stores or pharmacies might offer discount coupons. Diaper companies, clothing stores, book sellers, and health care providers could also be engaged in FamilyVille by providing free samples and coupons. As the child grows, additional partners might get involved, such as education systems, museums, and extracurricular programs (dance centers, martial arts centers, etc); offering discounts, reduced admissions, or other incentives. Eventually, FamilyVille might be used in middle and high schools to prepare youth for parenthood. (In Parenting 101 and 201, I shared my views on preparing youth for the most important role of their lives: parenthood.)
The benefit for children is having the advantage of parents prepared to meet their developmental needs. Schools benefit by having students prepared to learn. Communities benefit by having families engaged in healthy activities. Ultimately, everyone wins with healthy, well-educated children and parents. It would clearly be a big undertaking to develop such a project, but the pay-off would be incredible! So what do you think, Zynga? Are you ready to change the world for the better, one child/family at a time?