When I was growing up, video games were for kids. From the marketing to the cultural perception of this emerging media, gaming was the pastime of school-aged children and young adults refusing to grow up. Now, in my thirties. games are for everybody. Just take a look at your Facebook feed. The same aunt who couldn’t play Mario is on her hundredth level of Candy Crush Saga, and your mom wants to play Words with Friends against you right now. Gaming is everywhere, and isn’t going away.
As a child of the late 80s and early 90s, my formative years of gaming were offline. As a result, I hold a nostalgic place in my heart for face-to-face, cooperative gaming (better known as “couch-co-op”). The real-time exchanges and shared experiences a game creates become much more impactful when you’re sitting right next to someone, and nothing beats the celebratory hi-fives that naturally emerge after teaming up to tackle a difficult segment of a game. It’s a fantastic feeling, and you should be having it with your kids.
Games can do more than serve as a platform for having fun and building camaraderie. They can facilitate trust and discussion, and help create a space where children feel free to share their thoughts. Working together within a game is a two-way street, an equal exchange. For kids, that kind of level playing field can be a rarity.
One of my favorite writers on games, psychology and family, Jordan Shapiro, touched upon these issues for Forbes a while back in an article titled Why Playing Video Games Makes You a Better Dad. In it, Shapiro recounts a touching personal story about how gaming helped him forge bonds with his two boys after he and his wife separated. While the games certainly helped get his kids excited about “Dad time,” he found them to be powerful tools for fostering discussion. Shapiro describes it best:
This is the world of my kids’ imagination. When I take it seriously (and participate along side of them), I’m not only validating their inner world by giving positive reinforcement to the things that matter most to them, I’m also providing fun and supportive space in which a sophisticated emotional intelligence can emerge.
His story revolved around personal stories and anecdotal evidence, but a study recently published by Arizona State University seems to corroborates his findings. Researchers there noted that non-gaming parents “miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids,” and often “don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving.” Even better, they found that gaming “offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’” In his coverage of the story, Shapiro drives the point home:
Yes, study after study is showing that there are a lot of great skills and lessons that kids can acquire by playing video games. I’m not surprised. Learning is experiential, and games are complex simulations that require advanced problem solving skills. It is easy to learn the mechanics of the game while playing. But kids need parents, or older siblings, or adult caretakers to help them translate those lessons into the context of the real world.
The ability to apply learned material outside of the context in which it was learned — called generalization — is key to game-based learning, and it’s up to parents to foster conversation and make connections between what happens on the screen and what happens in life. When we first started LearningWorks for Kids, hands-on parenting had to be at the center of our approach, and can be seen in our game and app guides today. From the dedicated “Play Together” section in each of our game reviews, to the hands-on activities we recommend for apps and websites, parental involvement is the most important aspect of all of our learning recommendations.
If you are a parent, chances are you’ve got a games console sitting in your living room, or, in the very least, a smart phone or tablet device handy. So, why not take a look over our games section to find something to play with your child? Give it a try, and we think you’ll be surprised — not just how much your child loves gaming with you, but at how much your child has to say.
[Image via VintageComputing.com]