Navigating life as a gaming parent is tough, so our Editor Matt decided to take on the challenge of writing about it in a long-form format. Welcome to the first part of this epic work from Matt, we hope you enjoy it and you can expect new parts every two weeks. It is also worth noting that Matt wrote this with people that may not understand video games in mind, so feel free to share with your friends and family that are a little lost in this era of gaming and tech. You can catch up on the previous chapter here:
My Kids Stole My Controller: Chapter 3 – Junior Gaming
One of the most common points of uncertainty regarding games and toddlers is when is it ok for kids to start playing video games? The answer? I don’t know. There have been studies about screen time for kids, all of which say that kids shouldn’t spend too much time in front of a screen. Some say no more than an hour a day; some say less, depending on the age of the child. I just want to put it out there that I wholeheartedly agree with restricting game/screen time for kids. To this day, my kids are on a strict “no games during the school week” policy, and on weekends and school holidays, assuming fine weather, we have them play outside for a large portion of the day. That being said, I also feel like there is nothing wrong with introducing young children to virtual play. It is something that, no matter how you feel as a parent, they are going to be exposed to and, in this increasingly connected world, the simple act of getting kids used to technology is only going to help their development.
Children are amazing in their capacity to learn and adapt. Starting young, simply letting them play around with common technology like phones, tablets and consoles is a wonderful way to expand their horizons. Both the Apple and Android stores have some excellent apps that help with early learning (they also have some terrible ones, so please do make sure that you check the reviews). Things like basic numbers and letters, pattern recognition and pronunciation can be assisted with certain bits of software and, what’s more, they are almost always presented in a way that is actually fun for the child. As any teacher will tell you, if a kid is enjoying the lesson it will stick with them for longer (or, erm, at all).
Don’t worry about kids not understanding tech, either. Trust me when I say that kids take to technology like used car salesmen takes to lying. What’s more, with easier control schemes like touchscreens having become the norm, it isn’t long before kids are zooming around your phone like they were born with it in their hand. I remember one instance when my youngest was about 2 – I was typing away at my laptop when he came over and ran his finger on the screen to the left. He then repeated the motion, looking perplexed. After a third attempt, he looked at me with that very special serious look that only toddlers have and said “broken.” He assumed, like all tech he had access to, that my laptop had a touch screen. After showing him the mouse and keyboard however, it wasn’t long before he was opening things up and double-clicking like a little pro. The downside to this, however, was that from that day forward, I had to make sure my laptop was locked when it wasn’t in use. There are things on my computer the kids don’t need to see (I’m talking about Mortal Kombat people… get your minds out of the gutter, sheesh.)
As for your own gaming time, when toddlers become a little more self-sufficient, a little more able to entertain themselves, then so too does your spare time start to reappear. That said, your game selection is a little limited when a young one is roaming about. After all, two is perhaps a little young for them to be getting ideas about a career in hellspawn hunting. Family-friendly entertainment is the name of the game and anything more risqué than an Italian plumber bouncing off a walking mushroom’s head gets relegated to the adults-only timeslot. But fret not! There are hundreds of games that are both kid-safe and satisfying for all ages. During this time I rekindled my love for classic platform games like Sonic the Hedgehog, brought my skills in sporting games like NBA 2K to a new level and learned how to create and dominate human history in Civilization. Just because I couldn’t bash any Nazi’s or disembowel a couple of undead ninjas didn’t mean I was short on gaming options.
I also want to point out the potential for some joint fun here. Some see the old “give the kid the unconnected controller” trick as a dirty tactic, but not I. I had a great time with my boys as they pretended to play along with me. Their enthusiasm and excitement only enhanced my own enjoyment of any given title.
During the years that my children were in this stage of development, there was one particular game that brought joy to both the kids and myself more than any other. This was a game that was both suitable for kids and simple enough to be enjoyed by everyone, even non-gamers. The title was Guitar Hero (and later, Rock Band) and it became something of an obsession in our house. I would come home from work, pick up the boys from daycare and settle in for a giant rock session. I would be playing while my two wannabe rock stars would grab their toy guitars and plastic drum kits and join me for our own virtual rock extravaganza. We would master Metallica, beat Bon Jovi and ace Alice Cooper at full volume, smiling and laughing together for the whole time. Occasionally, others would join in the fun, family members and friends all diving into our little routine, but this was, essentially, a regular ritual for the three of us and is one of my more cherished memories of my kids growing up.
As I have already stated, I am no expert, but I feel like this sort of interaction with children can only be positive. The old cliché of ‘the family that plays together, stays together’ rings true and, from personal experience, I can say that it creates bonds with children that just can’t be overstated. To this day, playing video games together, as a family, is something to be cherished. It doesn’t happen as often thanks to things like work, homework, sporting commitments and so forth, but when it does the whole family lights up, savouring the time we spend together, either competing or cooperating in virtual worlds.
This all leads to kids playing games on their own. I have already mentioned educational apps on phones and tablets, but the real meat of concern is them there console and PC games. Which games are appropriate? Which games balance being kid-friendly with respecting their intelligence? Which games foster creativity and imagination? These are the sort of questions that go through your head when picking something for your kids. I have something of an advantage in this area thanks to the fact I am so deeply involved in video games media. This means I am aware of and have a good base knowledge of just about every major game out there. But, if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance your knowledge of this topic lacks a little breadth, in which all I really have to say is – worry not. The internet, despite being a haven for over-opinionated tools and conspiracy theorists, has some good qualities too. One of those qualities is the ability for parents to learn about which games are appropriate for kids and what content they contain. I can’t stress this enough that, when in doubt, don’t listen to the guy at the video game store, don’t listen to your friends, and (above all) don’t listen to morning tv. Do your own research and come to your own conclusion. Only you know what is best for your child, and what you are comfortable with them having access too. (That said, please don’t buy Grand Theft Auto for your eight-year-old – Copy Ed)
Some of the things I found surprised me, though. I have to admit that much. My first assumption was that games like Mario and Sonic would all be perfect for kids. They are colourful, contain age-appropriate content and are the types of games that I grew up with. What I failed to take into account was the difficulty. These can actually be actually tough games, something that is easy to miss because of the cartoony presentation. What I discovered was games that had an open world, that could be tackled in a manner the child chose were the games that kept the kids coming back for more. De Blob, an Australian-developed title that saw players take control of a rolling blob of paint tasked with restoring colour to a black and white world is probably the best example of this I have ever come across. It is a game that is accessible to kids without speaking down to them, is open to kids playing in any way they choose and it encourages imagination and puzzle-solving skills every time they pick up the controller. But don’t take my word for it. I mean it. Head to Google before you do JB HiFi. Do your research: read reviews, check out YouTube footage, make up your own mind. If I pass on nothing else in this entire series of articles besides the need for parents to make their own informed decisions, then my time writing this has not been wasted.
Thanks again to Tim Henderson for being the copy editor on this work. You can start at the beginning with Chapter 1 here: