As you may have noticed, a huge part of my life is gaming. You can see this by looking at my PlayStation Wrap up for 2020 (check yours out here and mine here) where I racked up over 1,700 hours of PlayStation time which doesn’t include any time I have
wasted spent on my Switch and Laptop… so yeah I play a lot. But, this year especially, I have spent a lot of time at home parenting and home schooling too and something I have been balancing is the split between family time and games. So I wanted to take you through how I have been tackling it as well as some of the challenges I have faced.
Before I get into this, I wanted to say that this has been a blog I have been wanting to write for a while as it plays a huge part of my life and its something I will likely touch upon again. But for some context, my daughter is 7 and she has expressed an interest in playing games which I have, of course, fostered – I am not forcing her to play and she does seem to really enjoy playing these games. She plays a mixture of solo games and multiplayer games with me but she has no real interest in playing online which is fine by me. Also, and its a weird statement to say, she doesn’t really like violent games. Its a strange thing to specify as she shouldn’t really be playing those sort of games according to ESRB, but I do know that there are younger children than her that play games like Fortnite and Among Us which obviously has death and killing in it and as a key part of the game. I am not saying that I disagree with parents who let kids play these games; if she was interested I would even consider it, it’s just that she doesn’t want to and doesn’t like these aspects of the games.
Also, I am not writing this as a ‘how to get your child playing games‘ sort of blog. I would say that if your child is not interested in playing video games then don’t force it. Playing video games should be enjoyable and fun, not forced and a chore, so I am only ever guided by what she wants to do while suggesting games she may enjoy as she doesn’t see enough out and about at the moment to know what’s coming. For me, I think it is important to still teach your child(ren) about video games (I am not an expert in either topic) because love them or hate them, it is a huge growing industry and will almost certainly have an impact on their social spheres; through their friends at school or other family members for example. Plus, it also gives you a great chance to teach about internet safety especially in games with open lobbies such as Fortnite or even Call of Duty (you do you). On top of that some of these games deal with complicated and often uncomfortable topics such as death, good and bad and injustice so it provides a good teaching and talking point while remaining relatively neutral and far from home.
So with the intro out the way lets jump in, and I thought I would start at the beginning with what do you actually play? I am splitting this into two sections looking at multiplayer games and solo games as they definitely fall into different buckets with different challenges and benefits.
Games to Play – Multiplayer
The first challenge on training your little gaming prodigy is finding the right game. For me, I started it by trying to find a family friendly game that was fun but also had local multiplayer as it would create a good opportunity for the two of us to spend time together. Now, I thought to myself, this would be a walk in the park finding that game but my god, those sort of games are actually few and far between. I pulled together this rough little Venn diagram below which shows the challenge finding that ‘Goldilock’s Game‘ (because it’s juuussst right…).
Please remember that this was my personal approach to find the multiplayer game that I figured would work for us. Some children will be more interested playing solo and I imagine some parents are happy with that while other parents are probably happy playing the likes of COD with their kids. Again, no judgement here, I just know that Millie would not like those games and it would likely upset her so I would rather her feel comfortable playing games with me. So, the games I did manage to find for us to play were:
- Rayman Legends
- Little Big Planet 3
- Rocket League
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Now some of these are more successful than others. For example, she enjoys creative Minecraft and just creating weird and wonderful structures but not so much the survival side of the game but hopefully I will get her into that eventually. It does mean that when faced with games like Animal Crossing she can get a bit frustrated that you have to actually work for it (typical Gen Z am I right?) as she wants to just have everything at her fingers tips right away. She isn’t a fan of the ‘survival/resource management‘ aspect but she does like exploring and making stuff in the game. She also likes to visit my island to see what she could have so I am hoping she begins to learn these aspects to take the time to invest in these tasks with a hope that it builds good attitudes, not just within games but also life in general. I do encourage these games as both solo and multiplayer experiences because it allows her to be creative and play around with things that she can’t do around the house as we don’t have much LEGO etc, so she can really play around making whatever she can imagine.
Ultimately these multiplayer games are about having fun. This is something that even as adults we can lose sight of.
For the platformers I have listed (Rayman, Little Big Planet & Sackboy) they are a lot more fun but can also be more frustrating at the same time. I am definitely guilty of it but if you are an experienced gamer or know what you are doing, when your co-op partner keeps rushing forward and missing secrets/collectibles or throwing your lives away, it can make the game a lot harder for you. My advice to you, and something I need to remind myself, is that we are playing for fun. We aren’t playing competitively, we aren’t playing for trophies, we are playing to enjoy what we are doing. On Sackboy for example, you have five lives and often I will be running between spawn points solo without any remaining lives. And I want to make it clear, she is by no means bad. In fact, the speed she, and I assume most kids, pick these controls and games up is phenomenal. But I remind myself that it is more important that she is enjoying herself and wants to keep playing as opposed to making her feel like she is doing it wrong (even if sometimes, she is). It’s about making it clear what she should be doing and sometimes it pays to take time rather than rush and at other times she needs to get a move on. I think back to me at 7 though and I don’t think I was as coherent with a controller as she is and her dexterity explains why I get beaten by a lot of pre-pubescent teens when playing online.
These games are also great at fostering and developing teamwork. She has barely been at school over the past eight months and as she is an only child it could be easy for her to get used to playing solo. Now more than ever, I think it is great that she has to learn to share and learn to work together. This is what she may have learnt on the playground but given the distancing and isolation experience across the globe at the moment, this isn’t possible. So instead getting her to play puzzle levels that require two players and requires her to basic problem solve is important in my opinion. I do find that, because a video game has certain rules and restrictions given it is effectively logic and code, it can be frustrating for her to comprehend these rigid rules and situations that could be overcome if you were using your imagination in real life, but you need to make sure you talk through the solution and encourage them to try and not give up. Persistence is key – maybe next time I will give her a FromSoftware game.
Ultimately these multiplayer games are about having fun. This is something that even as adults we can lose sight of. Games can become such a chore if you are logging in to do mindless quests to tick a weekly box, that we often forget that sometimes games can just be fun. And I have found that I have enjoyed playing games with Millie a lot more if I just switch off and enjoy it and not focus on 100%-ing the level or completing it first time. Live in the moment and enjoy it and hopefully that level of gaming will come in time and maybe I will have a decent healer for WoW in a decade or so…
Games to Play – Solo
I think that finding the solo game is easier as you find a franchise they like and basically google it. For the last few years since she was 5 or 6 she has been playing Paw Patrol On a Roll – a basic side scrolling platformer that teaches the need to jump up and down and time your jumps, to interact with the environment as well as a few basic puzzles all while allowing them to play as familiar characters. A lot can be said about the gaming skills she developed here and you could see that she started to learn in game skills such as timing and basic decision making but also more physical skills such as holding the controller as well as button awareness. It also proved to be a gentle and non-offensive starter game that she still sometimes asks to play now. I would recommend finding a simple game like this as it teaches a lot more than you initially think it will and it doesn’t need to be Paw Patrol; I have found Barbie and Spongebob games that are similar.
PSA – Moderation: Something that has been covered a lot in the news when it comes to children and video games is the length of time they spend in front of their games. If your child is particularly fond of the game you can see them getting sucked in very easily. It is rich coming from me given the time I put into the hobby, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the screen time. It should be balanced out with acitivity, family time and learning as well. For me, I use timers at the moment to let her know when her time is up, when lessons start etc. It is important to teach moderation early as it allows them to know when they will have to come off and stop issues in the future.
She has certainly evolved from Paw Patrol though, with some of her enjoyable solo games being Rocket League and now Destruction All Stars (free PS5 PS+ Game) as well as Pokémon on the Switch. I am going to start with the driving games as she has really enjoyed these but not necessarily because of the game itself. When we played Rocket League together or when she played alone, she was never really interested in actually scoring the goals. She wanted to boost around and hit the cars which is fine… but also not the aim of the game. We would sometime play tag instead while the AI just score goals around us and sometimes we would do simple little races and she would enjoy it. And then this month’s free game dropped and she can’t get enough of it. She gets to boost around, battering cars and ramming into people and at the same time, now she is actually contributing to the game! And seeing her controlling the car just shows how far she has come in learning the controls and developing the 3D spacial awareness after moving from a 2D platformer to having to move on a X, Y and Z axis. She definitely enjoys the cathartic nature of smashing cars up, especially when it slows down to show some of the explosions and that is probably as violent as she gets at the moment.
In a very different capacity I have given her my copy of Lets Go Pikachu and she is really enjoying it but in smaller quantities than the simpler games like Destruction All Stars or Sackboy. She saw me playing Sword and she wanted a go but I figured that Lets Go offers an easier entry point as there are less Pokémon to choose from and it channels the Pokémon Go vibes that she likes to play on my phone. The biggest part of Pokémon, and something she is learning slowly, is the type advantages. She is learning as recently we watch Mewtwo Strikes Back and when it is Ash’s Charizard v Clone Charizard she turned to me and said that he should have used Squirtle instead. I have never been prouder of her than in that moment. But in all seriousness, she is battling her way through and is currently fighting Team Rocket it Celadon City. With this sort of game, there is a balance to be struck between letting her learn as she plays and giving my ‘expert’ opinion. It is also the first time that she has to actually read what characters are saying to understand where she should go and what she should do. She can read well but these games can contain some slightly more complicated information that requires help with. I am not going to say it counts as home schooling but it definitely ticks the box of ‘reading at home‘
The variety of games that she is playing is partly driven through her curiosity but also me testing the games she may and may not enjoy. I gave her Crash Bandicoot and Spyro for example and she wasn’t so keen on these despite their colourful design and relatively child friendly mechanics (Crash maybe not so much on later levels) so sometimes they land and sometimes they don’t. For me, I think its about showing that there can be games for everyone and sometimes the way you are meant to play the game isn’t how they will get the most fun so its worth letting them just play around and try to see what they like. Maybe when the next Pokémon game comes out, I will get her a copy and see how she handles it but she may be bored of it by then. Either way, it comes back to not forcing it. On paper she may enjoy a game because she likes the TV show but if she tries it and doesn’t like it, I don’t make a case to force it otherwise she will dig her heels in.