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Child’s play: gaming with your kids

My brother and I were introduced to video games as kids by our dad. But after the Commodore 64 and NES were no longer a novelty, the frequency with which he actually played with us started to reduce. He still showed an interest in what we were doing but he’d often let us play by ourselves, huddled around a screen in the dining room or hiding in my brother’s bedroom.

I’m not sure this is possible nowadays. Video games of some kind are often a child’s first introduction to technology, and everything is increasingly becoming online and electronically mediated. It’s therefore up to parents to guide their kids through the virtual world safely and help them understand how technology can be used responsibly – and this includes gaming. Playing with them is the only way to truly understand what they’re getting up to, how they interact with media and whether what they’re playing is suitable.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

And aside from all that serious stuff: it’s fun. A round or two of something entertaining can bring families together through shared experiences and friendly competition. In fact, gaming was how I initially bonded with my stepson after meeting him and my now-husband when Ethan was seven-years old. After getting past his initial disbelief and proving to him that girls really do play video games, the hobby became something we did together as a family and it’s still something we do now that he’s twelve.

It hasn’t always been easy. As I’ve written before, there are certain challenges which come from being a blended family and having to co-op with others who don’t necessarily understand video games or their content. These problems can be tough to solve sometimes, particularly when communication isn’t as open as it could be, but there’s usually always a sensible way forward. The past five years have taught me a lot when it comes to my stepson and gaming – although I realise there’s still a lot to learn.

The first lesson I picked up quickly: the titles I thought would be suitable weren’t always the ones Ethan wanted to play. The idealistic view of sitting on the sofa together in front of something ‘educational’ rarely happened and would last no longer than 15 minutes before he got bored. What I eventually realised was that it was important to figure out what he enjoyed about gaming and then let him choose the game, with a certain amount of gentle guidance. It gave him a sense of responsibility and me the opportunity to introduce him to new things.

I also saw he’d get a certain amount of satisfaction from teaching me how to play, even if I was sat right next to him during the tutorial or if it was a title I’d already completed. Children don’t have a lot of power so giving it to Ethan in this way was a fun experience for him; and more importantly, it allowed him to see how I handled myself. Showing a kid you can listen, understand the rules, and remain positive even in the face of frustration is far better than simply telling them what good behaviour looks like.

Limits are important too, in terms of both the amount of time spent playing and the titles made available to kids. Pete and I got into the habit of giving Ethan a ‘notice period’ whenever we needed him to do something, and even now we still let him know when there’s 15-minutes to go before bedtime or we have to leave the house. This gives him the chance to get to a save-point in his game because we all remember how frustrating it was when our parents didn’t understand and told us to ‘turn that thing off right now’.

I think situations like this help him see we’re reasonable and he can talk to us openly about the things he wants to play. We don’t always say yes – like when he asked if he could buy The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with his birthday money – but we do always discuss it and let him share his views. These conversations mean that when we do say no, he understands why and doesn’t argue too much despite being disappointed. He knows we’re saying no for a real reason after listening to his opinions and seeing where he’s coming from.

Discussions like this have put us in good stead now that Ethan is almost a teenager, but that doesn’t mean things always run smoothly. In secondary school he socialises with more peers than ever before and this means a wider range of video games being played by his friends. Should we therefore let him buy Assassin’s Creed Syndicate because that’s what they’re all playing right now, so he shares something in common with his classmates? Or should we say no because it’s a mature game, risking him being the odd one out?

Pete and I don’t have all the answers, and we’re pragmatic enough to realise that not all of the decisions we do make will be the right ones. But together with Ethan we’ll move forward as a family and keep those open discussions going. And if we do our job the best we can, my stepson will pass those lessons onto his on children in the future – and maybe one day we’ll be playing video games with our grandkids.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

9 thoughts on “Child’s play: gaming with your kids Leave a comment

  1. This is a great story, and I wish your attitude was more widespread. I can’t speak as a parent since… well, I’m not one, nor do I have any desire to be (neither does my wife, don’t worry)… but I do have experience both working in game retail and with kids (I was a teacher in a former life, if you didn’t know). And it’s more important than ever that parents engage with their children’s activities and learn to understand them in principle, even if not in practice.

    Gaming as a medium has matured into something incredibly broad, just like any other art form. That means there is stuff that is eminently suitable for kids, and stuff that is specifically designed for adults. I don’t even mean the obvious things like violent and/or sexy games for adults; there are some games where just the narrative or game mechanics are too complex for kids to be able to enjoy effectively.

    It’s important for parents to understand those things, too, and if their kids express an interest in playing them, for them to learn about them and perhaps play them together. While I wouldn’t expect a kid to “get” something like, say, Gone Home (hell, a lot of supposed adults don’t “get” Gone Home) if they were playing by themselves, that’s the sort of thing that could spark interesting and important conversations if played together.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It probably does not get better than Pete’s comment. I, too, am not a parent, but I was raised on the same principle: Discussion based on arguments. If I could make a good case of why I needed/wanted something, and my parents had no good argument against it, there was no reason to deny it to me. Of course, they had the last word, and they could make far better arguments than myself as a kid, but it was never just a “no, because I said no”, they always tried to make sure that I understood why they said “no”. I don’t want to brag, but seeing how I turned out, I think this was the right choice.

      Right now I see the issue with suitability for kids with one of my nephews. He loves Donald Duck comics and I have a huge collection at home. But in my opinion, a lot of this stuff is still out of his “reach”. Of course I provide him with a lot of these books, but some of them are heavily influenced by history or mythology. For example, I have a book where Donald is Odysseus, something that he has no clue about. Other stuff, like Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck comics have strong roots in American history, and many of the things even European adults don’t now about (myself included, but that’s why I love them. I can read funny stories, but I still learn something).

      To make Pete’s comment even more fitting: after telling my nephew about those other books, he really wanted to learn about Odysseus, so we spent an entire day teaching him about Odysseus’ adventures (with a lot of pauses to play, of course). Now he reads about the adventures of Dodysseus, and every time he visits my parents, I come around and he asks me about some stuff that he does not understand in the story.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I actually had a very similar experience to what you describe when I was a kid myself. My parents are very fond of telling a story about four year old me coming downstairs and suddenly quoting Genesis at them having apparently never picked up a Bible before in my life. They thought I was possessed… until they realised that I’d heard it from a cartoon I’d seen on the TV, haha.

        I also developed an interest in a lot of things through gaming. I still do today, in fact; I’ve grown fascinated with Japanese mythology through a lot of the games I play these days, for example, since many of them (including some you might not expect!) explore it in interesting ways.

        Liked by 1 person

        • We’re getting this with Ethan with regard to Assassin’s Creed. His best friend has been telling him about the series, which has encouraged him to find out about the lore, and in turn he’s now digging into various periods through history. I’ve written before about how far he can get into something he loves so I expect this to go on for a while!

          He recently told us he was thinking of becoming a historian and working in a museum when he grows up, so video games can’t be all bad. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This definitely relates to me on a couple of different levels. My dad and I bonded over video games and we still do even though I’m in college. He gave me the love for them and is part of the reason why I am in school to learn how to develop them. Then on top of that, my parents are divorced so my Step-dad and I played some games together when I first was getting to know him. There is also the point at which I worked at Gamestop where I ended up being the liason for a bunch of parents who didn’t know enough to know if a game was okay for their kids.

    I think it’s important to learn how to read ratings and know what your child can handle or should be exposed to. Everyone has different viewpoints on this, as is the case with my parents. My dad was always much more relaxed while my mom was much more strict. Personally, I’ve been playing GTA since it came out in 2013, right around when I was 13 or so. My dad was okay with me playing it because we had a mutual understanding about who I am as a person and how responsible I am. Growing up an only child who moved around a lot, I grew up quickly and I also learned a lot from the stories my dad told me about his youth.

    So I think that it all depends on your relationship with the other human to decide what is and isn’t okay. I love seeing that people do understand this and that you’re encouraging this open communication while accepting that you are there to guide, not completely control. Thank you!

    Like

    • The biggest lesson that getting to know Ethan has taught me is just how important it is to be open and honest. There’s always a worry about how much you should tell children and granted, there are certain details that should perhaps be left out of particular subjects; but they can often understand far more than you expect them to if things are explained to them in the right way.

      It’s really helped when it comes to figuring out which video games are suitable. As you say, you should get you know what interests your kid and what’s appropriate for them – outside of an age-rating on a box – and the only way to do that is to have conversations. It’s gotten to the point now where occasionally, Ethan will come to us and say ‘I’m not even going to ask you if I can buy because ‘ but he still wants to talk about the title itself. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful said all around. The importance of engaging in what your child enjoys it what matters. Showing them that you support them but still give them those boundaries so he isn’t in front of the screen 24/7

    Like

    • I think it’s important to let them feel as though they’re making their own decisions while at the same time guiding them towards what’s right. We don’t have all the answers and occasionally make mistakes – but we can learn from them, and then get on with playing video games. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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