Andy Robertson is a journalist who’s spent 15 years writing about video games and families. He used that expertise to write a book, Taming Gaming
, which he’s also turned into a handy and informative website helping parents decode the mysteries of gaming. Today on our blog, he argues that games can be great for children if you know how to use them.
When it comes to online safety and digital literacy, video games can seem like the elephant in the corner - or the monster taking over the bedroom. They’re a new media that is fast changing and have become an integral part of many parts of children's lives.
Parents and carers worry about the effects of game violence, potential addiction, costs and gambling as well as online strangers. While these things need to be taken seriously - and I look forward to writing about them directly in another blog - they often eclipse other more positive aspects of games.
Particularly at this time, children play games for a wide range of reasons. Some are quite obvious: video games are exciting, loud, bright and what everyone is doing. Video games are also a place where children talk to their friends, learn social skills, develop compassion, find some peace and quiet or even a way to calm their fears.
Before I get into some specific examples of games you might want to try with your children, here are some tips to aid better understanding and support of children who love playing video games.
Watch and Listen
Spend some time with your child as they play. Don’t helicopter in to check nothing untoward is happening, but sit down and spend half an hour watching. It might sound like a long time when you have so many other things to do, but it’s time well spent. It gives you a window into this world of gaming and to the inner life of your child.
Many are surprised at the sorts of conversations children have while playing, as well as have a space to laugh and be silly. They talk about school and their friends; they ask questions of each other, checking how they’re doing; they share concerns and worries about the news.
- New Super Lucky’s Tale is a game about a fox looking for lost pages of a book. It’s bright and fun, but it’s great to watch your child play as they solve problems and engage with the characters.
- Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a great online game for children to play with friends. It’s like a modern take on the old BBC show It’s a Knockout, with races and other fun challenges.
Check out these lists for more great games for children, sorted by age:
Playing games together with your child may sound like another idealistic suggestion, but creating time each week where the family plays together has a wide range of benefits. Not only does it mean you get to see what it’s like to play these games, you also anchor them as a family activity rather than something that competes for family time.
This changes the conversations you have about video games with your child. You can ask how they are getting on. What they are doing next in their game. Have they had any successes or failures in their recent play. You are no longer an outsider trying to restrict something, but a fellow player who can work out healthy limits with them.
- Moving Out is a game four people can play together, in which you must carry furniture from a house to your van. You have to work together to carry the heavier pieces as well as arrange them carefully to fit in the van. It’s a lot of fun and needs loads of communication.
- Conduct Together looks like a simple child’s railway. Here, though, you are each in charge of the trains and the points and must work together to get passengers where they need to go without crashing. It starts simply but soon requires lots of coordination (and just a little bit of shouting).
The links below include more examples of games you can play together:
This is the least popular piece of advice I offer parents and carers, because it sounds the most ridiculous. But if you have a child who loves video games, there’s no better way to guide them in healthy directions than to have experience of playing games yourself.
It starts to open the door on seeing video games as a media in its own right rather than entertainment that just needs to be tamed. This first hand experience not only equips you to set appropriate boundaries, but means you can be more ambitious for the sorts of games your family plays. These aren’t the sorts of games they your children play, but experiences specifically designed for grownups.
- Florence is a simple story book video game about a couple falling in and out of love. It only takes about 30 minutes to play, but is a beautiful example of how games can create new spaces to reflect on emotions and relationships.
- Bury Me My Love is a game in which you take the role of the husband of a Syrian refugee travelling to Europe. As the game unfolds in real time, her messages pop up on your phone throughout the day. Choosing the different answers to her questions influences the decisions she makes and the path of her journey. Each playthrough results in a different journey and one of 20 different endings.
If you’re someone who’s not played many games before, the links below include more recommendations to get you started: