Being a parent is tough. I’m not complaining. I love my kids and I can’t imagine my life without them. It’s a little cliche to say it, but my three kids are my world. One of the challenges is staying connected with them, especially as they get older. Luckily my generation grew up with something that would be one of the best tools for maintaining that connection that provides opportunities to spend time together: video games. Ever since my oldest was a toddler, video games have provided me with a wealth of moments to grow closer doing something we both enjoy. From early smartphone games centered around learning colors and letters to blasting our way through aliens and zombies now, we have found a common ground that allowed us to have fun and make memories. So, similar to last Thursday, I wanted to put my two cents out there in the hope that it may give someone an insight that will help them in forming better relationships with their families.
Its probably a no brainer but the first time anyone, especially a kid, picks up a modern game controller it can feel a little overwhelming. Kids today don’t get eased in with the nes 2 button and d-pad model that some of us had. Between analog sticks, triggers, buttons, bumpers, touch pads, and motion sensors these things have a lot going on. Gaming mice and keyboards can be just as intimidating. Add to that the fact that you’re using this all in response to feedback from a television or monitor and it is bound to be confusing and frustrating. These initial experiences will set the tone for their future perceptions with gaming and it will color how they view these interactions with you. Patience is absolutely key here. Do yourself a favor and start with something that has kids in mind. There are developers out there that understand what needs to go into a game so that younger audiences can enjoy it. These games often have more forgiving challenges and will help the player along in subtle ways. My go to example in recent years has been the auto-steer feature in Mario Kart 8. Much like bumpers in a bowling alley, all it does is correct their direction if they start to run off the track. It’s a simple fix that allows young children who aren’t ready to do everything on their own a chance to stay in the race. My son was 6 when we got the game and during the first few weeks its was instrumental in allowing him to not only enjoy the game but learn to play without that help. Difficulty settings are another way to give them a leg up. My daughter and I have played through several co-op shooters on the easiest difficulty and I have never felt that it lessened my enjoyment of the game. She was able to keep up with most things and I was able to carry her through the toughest parts of the game. All through this I was able to use their successes to encourage them to try new things and, more importantly, to teach to see challenges as something to embrace and charge at.
Understanding their limitations is also an important factor. My daughter is 14 and doesn’t have a natural talent for gaming. She’s a talented kid in a lot of ways but her inclinations are more artistic and creative. Even now that she’s getting older, she and I take a more casual approach. My nephew (and adopted son) takes after more after me and takes to games like a duck to water. If he and I play a game, co-op or competitive, I don’t have to handle him with kid gloves. At 13 he can hang with me on most anything and will beat me as often as not in a lot at a few. You have to learn to tailor your approach to each kid individually. There’s a learning curve there but my best advice is “when in doubt, err on the side of easiness” because you can always bump it up later. The important thing is to make it fun. If they’re smiling and laughing and having a good time then you’re doing it right.
Lastly, don’t forget to get outside when you can. I count myself lucky that my kids like to play outside and I’ve got a big yard for them to play in. We ride bikes, play baseball, and a dozen other things. Gamers are often a sedentary group of people and having kids will definitely help you stay active. Plus a little fresh air is good for you.
No matter what you choose to play, make the most of your time with them. They may not always remember the games you played or the achievements you earned but they’ll remember that you did it together.
Make every day count,