A Family That Games Together, Stays Together
Being a “xennial,” I grew up in a mostly analog world. We didn’t have internet, but I logged many hours smashing buttons on my NES. Fast forward to today, and I am not dexterous enough to handle the two joysticks on a PlayStation 4 controller, but I am no Luddite either. Put an 8-bit controller in my hands, and I have instant muscle memory from the many developmental years that I played Super Mario Bros. According to my children, I am the best Mario player in the house.
I relish this title, mostly because it is true, but also because as my children age and communicate with me less, we have shared some of our best quality time through video games. Rather than video games being something my kids use to zone out, they are something I can leverage to connect with them.
Family Game Night
I’ve been on both sides of the debate about whether gaming is beneficial or detrimental. In the nearly 50 years that video games have existed, much of the research into their effects has been focused on the individual gamer. I clung to the studies released throughout my undergrad degree in child development and psychology that pointed out the negatives of video gaming. Then, I married a gamer.
As video games and technology have become more social, researchers have begun to study the impact of video gaming on communities and, more specifically, within families. Around 60 percent of parents report playing video games with their children. If they are anything like me, it is the retro titles of our youth – Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong – that provide an inroad to connecting with our kids.
Gamers have been thought to be antisocial, but research doesn’t bear that out. According to studies, 80 percent of gamers say they prefer to play games with family and friends. Many adolescents and adults make significant friendships through video gaming, and anyone who has spent time with elementary-age boys knows that Minecraft and Fortnite are a culture of their own.
Video games are designed to be shared. Gaming provides an opportunity for parents to step into their children’s worlds and take an interest in something they enjoy. I love it when my younger son asks me if I will play Mario with him. He wants to spend time with me doing something we both enjoy. Often, great conversations are sparked through this shared time together.
Video games are complex puzzles that require problem solving, literacy and science. It is easy for children to learn the mechanics of gameplay on their own, but they need adults to help them translate these lessons to the real world.
Elizabeth Hayes, a professor at Arizona State University, says that “gaming with their children offers parents countless ways to insert their own teaching moment.” Positive life lessons are often hidden within the games.
My kids tease me because I like to show off a little bit and take risks that maybe I shouldn’t. Sometimes that means I lose a life. I find that when I get a little sloppy and reckless, it usually ends in my demise. By being a bit more careful, mindful and patient with my moves, I am ultimately more successful. What a great lesson for my kids to see in action.
As they play, there are bound to be times that they lose, but video games are designed to keep you playing, so you have endless opportunities to earn more lives or restart. Trying over and over again gives them chances to improve. They learn that within failures there are lessons to learn so they can improve and eventually succeed. Research shows that gamers tend to be goal-seeking and high-achievers, which is a stark contrast from the idea that gamers are antisocial introverts.
A Common Goal
In many games, one player’s progress is a boon for the other players as well. Research on social games shows that completing tasks and exchanging assets as a group strengthens social ties. What’s more, gaming has been shown to produce stronger family bonds in homes where video games are played frequently.
One of the best parts about playing video games with my kids is that they get to teach me. While I have had the opportunity to show my son how to fly long distances or warp to new worlds in Mario, he gets to show me how to make potions and toilets in Minecraft. Useful life skills? Maybe not so much, but the chance to connect on a meaningful level with my preteens is priceless.
As with any media, it’s important to check in with what our kids are doing and the content with which they are interacting. Engaging with them through gameplay provides an additional chance to guide them through virtual scenarios and potential conflict. As gaming and technology are increasingly social, it is essential to help them navigate these online social situations to translate those lessons into the real world.
It is also important to find a balance between gaming, shows and other technology. As parents, we set the example for healthy screen usage, and it is key to encourage children to participate in setting appropriate boundaries around their screen time. Helping them to take ownership of their devices will yield healthy screen habits in the long term. TechDen™ can help encourage these healthy habits early-on while creating a balance with the technology in our lives.
TechDen combines an app parents use to manage screen time with a physical home, The Den™, that charges and stores kids’ phones and tablets. Storing devices in The Den establishes a new mindset of unavailability and gives our devices a home of their own. The Den takes an “out of sight, out of mind” approach that teaches healthy digital habits, establishes boundaries, and creates a positive balance with technology.
Jacquelyn Nause is a TechDen contributing writer with specialties in parenting, real estate, and wellness. She enjoys traveling with her husband, being a doting mother to her two incredible kids and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest playground.