My kids were late to video gaming, possessing parents who would rather they play one of our hundreds of board games or invite a slew of kids over for a playdate. But I understand how crucial it is for kids to learn how to navigate the rough world of making friends and reading social cues, and the importance of emotional intelligence.

So I was intrigued to learn of the new launch of IF… a new game that provides an adventure for kids to build SEL – Social and Emotional Learning – skills.

Trip Hawkins is the founder of Electronic Arts and the entrepreneur who has developed IF. Trip is dedicated to using gaming to teach social emotional learning. Although I am neither a psychologist nor a gaming expert, simply an interested blogging parent, Trip showed his own high empathy and kindness in agreeing to my request for an e-interview!

A Parent in America: What will a child gain through playing the game IF?

Trip Hawkins: The child controls a game character that learns how to manage emotions and have positive relationships.  The game reinforces skills that can increase a child’s EQ.  It’s as fun as other games so kids will devote time and attention to it.

Is IF geared to assist a child in navigating her current relationships in childhood, or to prepare her for adult life? 

The situations in the game are modeled on real life, so the skills that may develop from playing the game should apply to real life both now and in the future.

How does IF differ from other online and video games on the market for kids? 

Sadly, most games are just a way to kill some time.  And very few games have any applicability to the real world.  IF… is a rare example of a game that is plenty fun but that has genuine curriculum design and purpose along with concrete measurement of learning.

What features of IF will parents like best? 

This game enables parents to move kids off of games that are a waste of time.  Experts from Yale, The Institute for SEL, The Nueval School, CASEL and Stanford help us make sure the lessons are highly polished and valuable.  We’re also building a Parent Dashboard that keeps parents aware of what their kids are accomplishing and gives ideas on how to connect, share and reinforce the learning.

I saw that you modeled the child gamer/protagonist after George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” How does George’s journey in the film relate to the child’s journey through IF? 

Bailey’s goodwill enables his town to thrive in the film.  But they have a scene that shows the town in shambles if he had never been born.  Our game world begins in shambles and the child gets to return it to health.  And like Bailey, it is about compassion and love, not about materialism, that success and happiness happen in the end.

Is the game helpful to children with special needs, such as kids on the autism spectrum? 

The spectrum is quite broad and I am sure that they are some cases where this kind of game will prove to make a positive difference. Asberger’s Syndrome comes to mind as one example.

When is the game available and what does it cost?

It’s not quite finished, but anyone who is interested can come to ifyoucan.org and get on our email list.   We hope to have a free version of the game at the end of January.  The free version includes Chapter 1 of our story and curriculum.  An additional year of monthly chapters will cost around $5 per month and will be well worth it.

Thanks for reading this interview. I will be downloading IF for my children to play and I will keep you posted on our experience. 

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