My 7 year old son is way into Bakugan.
Most days, after homework, piano practicing and other chores are done, I can find him sitting at the computer watching YouTube videos. He’s not watching cartoons or sports or “kissing” videos (as my 7 year old daughter does, I recently discovered). Nope, he’s watching videos of other kids talking about their Bakugans.
Bakugan toys are these tiny plastic and metal creatures that, quite cleverly, fold into spheres. When they unfold, they become other-worldly creatures that do battle according to an elaborate set of rules that, frankly, I have no interest in nor patience for understanding.
But understanding the specifics of these toys is sort of beside the point. To observe my kid watching and learning from these videos is to understand how social media is changing our all kinds of things about our society and culture. Here’s what I mean.
First, instead of watching highly produced television or movie content, my kid is watching other kids share their and experience knowledge about these toys. And he’s riveted. If that isn’t the most mind-blowing example of pure social media, I don’t know what is. These kids sit in their bedroom with their $25 digital cameras with a video setting and record themselves talking about these toys. The video is often unfocused and the audio can be unintelligible. There is no editing whatsoever in a lot of these videos. In them, the kids talk about how the toys work, how to play with them and, in true internet spirit, how to customize and hack them.
The customizing/hacking part is critical. In Trust Agents, one of my favourite books of late, Brogan and Smith discuss the implications of video gaming on social media strategies. They outline the standard trajectory that gamers follow: first, they learn to play the game; then, they learn the “cheats” to skip through the game so they can get to the more challenging bits; and finally, they hack the game. The reinvent within the game’s idiom, thereby pushing the game outside the box.
This is critically important behaviour to learn for the “real” world – it is arguably one of the most valuable skills to have in order to succeed in this technological, entrepreneurial world we live in.
Back to my kid. As a result of watching hours upon hours of these videos, he has been learning how to customize his Bakugans. This means taking them apart and reassembling the parts from different Bakugans into one new hybrid. It can also mean adorning them with special markings applied with permanent marker.
The first time he approached me to help him, I resisted. Are you sure, I ask him, you want to risk us failing and destroying one of your favourite toys? He’s resolute. So, we tried – and we failed miserably. Tiny springs and pieces went flying and we lost a Bakugan. There was frustration and tears, but we learned. I learned.
The next time, I minimized all the moving parts and we succeeded in transferring the head and wings of one Bakugan to the base of another. Victory! Elation!
Last night, he pushed the envelop again. This time, he wanted not only to swap head and base, but he wanted to add a wing from a third Bakugan.
With some success behind us, my resistance weakens. We can do it, I tell him. But be prepared for the possibility of failure – that’s how we learn. (He really, really doesn’t like to fail at things – but that’s a different article.)
We succeed. And there is a beautiful joy in this success – in meeting and exceeding his expectations – and seeing is face light up at his and our accomplishment.
Each day, I ask him: Were your friends impressed with your creation? Even, I’ve been telling people about it – and I don’t even care about these little toys. Do I?
No, I care about the process of learning and sharing that with my kid.
I wonder what challenge he’s gonna bring me next?