More Than Just a Game: What Kids can learn from their Gamer Dads (and Moms!)
Playing video games purposively can be a great bonding experience and help parents teach kids to solve puzzles, work as a team, and lose graciously!
Despite being simply games that you play on a video screen, there’s a stigma around video games that simply doesn’t exist for traditional games and sports, and is bigger even than the negativity surrounding screen time for movies or shows on YouTube or Netflix.
As a gamer since I was about 6 or 7 years old, I feel a bit offended whenever people look down on video games, especially since it’s a 160-billion dollar industry, dwarfing even the global movie and U.S. sports industries combined. Parents sign their kids up willingly for in-person sports camps or theater classes (or at least they did in 2019 and hopefully will do so again soon) without a second thought, but think twice about gaming PCs or video game consoles. The reality is, such a big industry requires the manpower to conceptualize, write, code, test, market, and even play these games professionally - it’s a legitimate career, fellow parents! And even for those who don’t get into the video game industry, simply playing these games at such a young age can be good for them, too.
For a certain segment of the population, video games are synonymous with a mustachioed man that we made run, jump, and stomp around two-dimensional levels on the way to a flagpole at the very end. More than the muscle memory gained from playing the same levels over and over, the lesson I learned from that is the same one I am trying to teach my son as he plays a modern version of that mustachioed man: losing is learning. Every time you lose is an opportunity to figure out what to do to beat that level. It’s a moving puzzle, and after you figure out what to do, you also need the hand-eye coordination to actually pull it off. For a child who is learning his place in the world, it’s important for me that he knows that it’s perfectly fine to fail, and that he learns to react to and deal with it properly.
Some games put you in the shoes of the ruler of a small kingdom. You make different decisions and these decisions come with consequences, which I feel is also something kids need to learn about life. It’s like chess where winning or losing depends on strategizing and thinking not just in the moment, but several moves ahead. Depending on the context and setting, it can also be an opportunity to learn about the different cultures that you alternately control, coexist with, or conquer, which is a mini history lesson in itself.
Different game genres provide the opportunity to learn different things. Sometimes, unique games within the same genre bring something new to the table, be it a compelling story or a one-of-a-kind gameplay element. There are visual novels with well-written characters and plots, like a modern Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. There are cooperative games from different genres that can teach kids how to communicate and work together as a team to complete an objective. There are even games that teach you how to build games, test them out, and then share them for others to play, preparing kids for a potential future in the game development industry. Bottom line: video games are as varied in what they can offer and teach kids in the same way that different books, movies, and experiences are. Of course, just like these other activities to engage in and media to consume, not everything is for everyone, as violence, certain themes, and storylines might not be appropriate for young, impressionable kids. And as with everything else in life, moderation is important.
There’s a lot that video games can do for our kids, but it starts with recognizing that they are neither intrinsically evil nor good. They’re simply another form of content that can either be a babysitter for when you want to distract your kid and do something else, or an exciting and potentially teachable moment that the child remembers all the way into adulthood as a regular bonding moment with Mom or Dad. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m being called to be Player 2.
About The Expert
Migs Marfori is Wyeth Nutrition’s Creative Content Manager. A former advertising creative director and self-proclaimed geek, he has made it his life’s mission to give his son the best possible pop culture education through books, comics, and video games.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.