Why playing video games with your child is a very good thing

We’re all familiar with headlines such as ‘Violent video games “do mean teens aggressive”’ or ‘Children made rude, uncooperative and aggressive by video games’. It seems to be a given these days that video games are bad for children and young people: bad for their brains, bad for their personalities and potentially bad for society.

But look again at the evidence. For every headline about the negative effects of gaming on children, there is one listing the positives of playing games. According to these positive reports, video games can be tools for learning and create chances for families to play and grow together. So what should we believe?

Well, while research studies and experts continue to disagree, we as parents, carers and other significant adults need to take control. We shouldn’t be willing to let children and young people play for hours on end, every day, while we passively stand by. We should engage with what children are doing and – yes – join in ourselves!

Like all kinds of storytelling, video games provide abundant opportunities for learning. As characters in the game are confronted with choices, playing together ensures that we can talk about those choices. For example, the decision of a character to stand and fight, or to run, can develop into a conversation about places in our lives where it is best to take a stand or retreat from the fray. This conversation might take in the motivation of the video-game character and speculation of whether we might have controlled them in a different way in different circumstances. Whether in a fantasy, sci-fi or real-life setting, different stories can help us open up different subjects.

Moreover, by joining in with our children, we turn a potentially solitary activity into one which is a shared experience. We break down the idea that gaming is only something that can be done alone, but bring it out into the family areas of the home, thus ensuring that we can manage this medium in a way which is relational, rather than confrontational.

Playing together can be a collaborative experience, where one person plays and others (you, brothers, sisters or friends) suggest what to do. This can be particularly useful if the game is slightly more advanced than your child can cope with, or with games that involve lots of puzzles or brainteasers. If you actually play together, you will need to practise and become quite adept. Playing with a parent is one thing, but if that parent is always crashing and falling off the course in Mario Kart or getting trapped in the latest Minecraft release, then the child will get bored pretty soon!

In the case of Guardians of Ancora, playing with a child can help you encounter Bible stories – and so Jesus – together. During the game-playing levels (Bible Quest), you can suggest different directions to travel, read what the bystanders are saying, spot the sheep and work together to get over a tricky obstacle. During the storytelling sections, you can dwell with the child, encouraging them not to rush and tap through the story without thinking through what is going on. When the time comes to respond, you could take some of the activities offline and do a response activity together, using paper and pens, art materials or journals.

Turning gaming from a solitary pastime into a family obsession can release so much to parents and carers. How will you make the most of these new joint-discovery opportunities?

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