If you’re a parent you’ll understand that some of our little ones are simply crazy for video games and any technology that stimulates their agile, digitally-wired minds. You may find it hard to get them to read books (old technology in their minds), and you may struggle with guilt about letting them indulge their passions. Perhaps you worry that they should spend more time being active, more time with friends or more time outdoors.
Or you may think that having a gamer kid is actually really amazing, and that their forays into digital spaces might make them more technology literate in the future. They might even work in games one day, as it’s an industry growing at warp speed. Did you know that the video game industry already makes more money than movie theaters?
In short, games aren’t going anywhere, and are likely to be an integral part of our future. Already there are many researchers looking to leverage game mechanics and reward systems in formal learning contexts. In addition, many games represent open ‘sandboxes’ allowing for a wide range of player-driven novelties. This is the epitome of creative practice, and many artists, designers and builders of the future can benefit from this type of play. If violence worries you, check out this video offering an alternate perspective:
Or if you’re worried about your kid’s developing brain, try this one:
Here are a few tips for overcoming your discomfort (if you have any!) and embracing the best that games have to offer the next generation.
Playing With Them
I think the best way to overcome worry about video game play is to play with your kids as much as possible. You can check out my other recent article, What We Learn From Games, to understand what learning and cognitive ability might be emerging from something that just looks like useless mayhem to you. Also, pick games you like and play them yourself! Your kid will love you for taking the time to understand their passions. According to the Entertainment Software Association only 35% of parents play games with their kids regularly (at least once a week), so this is definitely an area we parents can explore more thoroughly.
Balancing the Virtual and the Real
It might be hard to believe, but when printed books became widely available parents and other concerned adults complained about kids ‘escaping into other worlds’. It happens with just about every new medium that comes along: it becomes the scapegoat for all concerns and problems in our society.
Researchers know, however, that kids are actually quite skilled at separating reality from fantasy starting at age 3, and explorations in play spaces can actually help develop their creative thinking and problem-solving capabilities.
Keeping Them Safe
The Entertainment Software Association says that 85% of parents are aware of game ratings and use them to make decisions about which games to buy. 93% of them pay attention to the content that kids are interacting with. That said, parents vary in style and what might be appropriate for one family might not be appropriate to another. Trust your intuition on this one, and spend time observing how your kid behaves both during and after game play. It is well-established that violent game play, for instance, can raise aggression during and right after play, but the overall effect (especially for boys) should be one of calming and catharsis.
In online games parents further have to worry about the people their kids have access to. Wizard 101 is an online game that takes this issue seriously. Though kids can play in online spaces, parents have the option to turn off open chat so that conversation is naturally limited.
Screen Time and the Exercise Issue
Lots of well-meaning parents worry that gaming kids aren’t getting out enough, aren’t getting enough exercise or simply spend too much time looking at screens. So my tip for this is: all things in moderation. Take walks with them if you have the time, or have them run around outside before you allow them to sit in front of a game. Also, build breaks in to game play and have your kids focus on something else for a bit, even if it’s just helping you with dinner or chores. For each chore complete, one hour of game play is a reasonable compromise. You might also want to turn off screens an hour or so before bedtime so they get the rest they need!
Games to Feel Good About
If games still give you the heebie-jeebies, consider looking at genres of games that encourage problem-solving, creativity, design and construction, and learning rather than violence.
This is a great genre to start with yourself, then invite your kids to play.
Time/Resource Management Games
Just like waiting tables in a restaurant, time and resource management games allow kids to develop important real life skills.
This is a great genre for kids, as they learn to think at both the big picture and tactical level. Some of these games have violent elements (crushing enemies) but in general the violence is less blood and gore and more historical simulation.
Great mental exercise for kids and adults alike.
So many kids just love this relatively simple building game with lots of collaborative play options.
These games have been around a long time, but they are excellent for sparking creativity and teaching kids the nuances of public spaces and systems.
My kid’s current favorite. VillageLife lets them start families and track their progress and migration over time.
An educational virtual world that doesn’t feel like one to kids. Math Blasters is their sister product and it’s very appealing to kids, as well.
Embracing the Gamer Lifestyle
Once you feel comfortable with these activities you can make your kid(s) super happy by helping them explore the gamer lifestyle. This might include decorating their room according to video game themes, throwing them game-themed birthday parties, and supplying them with fashion and gear that allow them to declare their interests. My kid bonds with several other kids via their interest in games and I think this is a wonderful thing.
Do you have a gamer kid? Tell us about them and what you think about their hobby (or obsession!)?