By Anne Collier
Anybody who grew up with or knows somebody who grew up with Disney’s Lilo & Stitch film and cartoons knows “ohana” means “family” in Hawaiian, but also something more. The creators of Ohanarama are going for that spirit of multi-generational togetherness with their just-launched gaming service, which is now an app on Facebook and a site. Right now, the free, growing service offers single- and two-player games that can be played across time zones either in real time or asynchronously (taking turns over time). There are games for kids (categorized by grade level) and adults, and they’re meant to be good for brain stimulation as well as camaraderie and competition. The game list is growing, but there’s already a variety, including traditional games such as checkers, chess, and tic-tac-toe. Quiz games help distant family members get to know each other better. The way you get started is, parents register themselves and their kids on either Facebook or Ohanarama.com, and both can then invite others into the family network. Kids under 13 can only log in through the Ohanarama. Families can play games, message each other, eventually videochat with each other, and send each other virtual gifts acquired by “earning” tokens (for virtual objects for use in game play) and Neuros that can be put toward “real world rewards” such as a birthday gift (I love the play on “euros” and “neurons”).
“We are seeing more and more intergenerational gaming, which picks up on the deeply social nature of online games while simultaneously providing a context in which even young children can pay the role of ‘expert’ in an increasingly acceptable fashion,” write University of Southern California Profs. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in their book A New Culture of Learning, which I highly recommend. “During the time they spend together, family members are not just idly chatting; they are actively engaged with one another – questing, learning, and building teams to complete real tasks,” the authors continue. “They feel that the connections they build in the context of gaming can be about something concrete: accomplishments and shared experiences that bring them together and motivate them.” I love this idea of older family members helping to bring out the expertise of younger ones and everyone having a great time in the process. Of course it’s been around for a long time, so it needs to happen online too.
And the conditions are ripe, it appears. Ohanarama.com’s press release cites AARP research showing that 45% of US grandparents live 200+ miles away from their grandchildren, and the site’s own findings from focus groups involving 150 families found that 70% of respondents “said that grandkids logged on to Ohanarama to play games with their grandparents, an indication of the growing trend of grandparents going online to connect with grandkids.” And in its “Generations 2010” study last December, Pew/Internet reported that 43% of US 56-to-64-year-olds use social network sites, and 34% of 65-to-73-year-olds do.