The opportunity to play video games at a young age is a great step forward in educating children about technology and modern electronic interaction. Children of the technological age are growing up with skills that my parents are still taking time to learn. These skills will give gaming children a great boost towards understanding what will become their everyday world (not that I don’t support good old-fashioned stick fighting, tree climbing, and outdoor play). Because video games can be so beneficial to these parts of a child’s life, as well as boosting imagination, motor skills and much more, it can be a great bonding activity for parents and their children.
There are of course games that are made for children spanning all ages. There are games for infants, such as flash games that simulate peek-a-boo. There are those that follow popular children’s TV shows or movies, such as Disney’s many games. Educational games, such as those that teach math or spelling, are made for classroom and at home use, but they are not the only manner in which video games can become educational. There is a plethora of ways to make games not intentionally built for educational purposes educational.
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A recent video by Extra Credits took on the topic of parents using games to the benefit of their children and the relationship they have with their children. Their examples prove that even games such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty can open up a child’s mind to the greater issues that games discuss or are based around. It even brings up the ever-important idea of cross-media research and non-gaming interaction. One of the most beneficial things non-gaming parents can do to show interest in their child’s gaming hobby is to sit with them and attempt to assist them. Giving a child a game should not be a cop-out on parental interaction, especially if the child has a great interest in games. It should be seen as an opportunity for bonding, an opportunity to become part of the child’s hobby. It can be a great experience for both the parent and child. A parent sitting down and fervently translating a cypher while their child breaks through an Assassin’s Creed II glyph can be just as engaging and supporting as attending a child’s soccer game.
The example above also shows how a game can open up great avenues of conversation. Games like Assassin’s Creed II open up questions and conversations about geography, history, cryptography, realms of science fiction, and much more. Almost every game can be broken down into ideas worth discussing. An educating game does not have to be an ‘educational game’.
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Cooperative games are also a great device in the family bonding tool-kit. For younger children, playing a game from the LEGO franchise with their parents will build teamwork skills and perhaps act as a trust building exercise. It is also important to think of the impact games have on a child’s idea of gender roles. Playing games like LittleBig Planet will not only let a child’s imagination run wild, but through creating there own little Sack-avatar they can play with what it means to make representation of themselves (or just a mustached cook with a purple afro), which is far less constricting than some older games (Harvest Moon 3’s, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’). It is important to sit down and discuss the gender stereotypes seen in most games, and then choose games with less constricting and more positive views on individual differences to counter the negative input.
In some ways it is up to gaming parents to protect their children from some of the negative aspects of video games they are not yet prepared for, but it is also up to them to use video games as a positive, educational, and constructive tool. The video game industry and these games’ influences are growing every year. Rather than skip out on this opportunity due to the media through which it is presented, parents should look for ways to enhance their child’s gaming experience.
As an endnote, I should state that I am not a parent. But as a child who played video games I sometime had a great time playing with my parents and siblings. To this day my family still uses video games as entertainment and bonding during family visits. I am glad that my parents took the time to show interest, and that they continue to do so.