Why Video Games Are Good For Your Kids

People are surprised that I allow my children to play video games. I constantly find media-fueled hype like this recent article from the BBC: Pupils ‘made more violent by computer games’

Bradford teacher Alison Sherratt is set to tell the ATL annual conference in Manchester that members of her reception class have been acting out scenes from games well above limit for their age.

“The inspiration for this motion was when I watched my class out on the playground throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies,” she says.

“I followed it up in circle time and talked about what they knew about playing games on the computer.”

She questions how to respond when one of her pupils asks her to join in a game by “stabbing a person in the back”.

Time to party like it’s 1979
For pity’s sake! We’ve had video games for generations and still these hidebound attitudes prevail? Let’s go over it again, folks: Not all video games are violent gorefests. Many of them are not only suitable for children, but can help teach valuable skills like problem solving and cooperative play.

The article eventually gets to the heart of the actual problem:

Ms Sherratt also raises concerns over children having access to games unsupervised in their rooms, and wonders whether their parents are checking on what they are doing.

Exactly. It’s not video games that are the problem, but parental supervision. Except the article only mentions that after we’ve stoked the flames of hysteria. There’s a big difference between My Little Pony and Grand Theft Auto. As parents it’s our responsibility to understand that difference.

Video games are a form of art
I play video games myself. Personally I don’t care for the first-person-shooter variety, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with FPS. I simply prefer RPGs like Tales of Symphonia and Dragon Age. I like games with character building, story arcs, and plots worthy of a good novel. In fact, that’s just what many modern video games are – unique universes in a new medium. Rather than television or books, we find art and beauty in video games.

(Art and beauty in video games? Yes. Read this article about the Art Of Video Games exhibit – at the Smithsonian. Good enough for ya?)

The games my kids play are similarly cooperative. We’re fond of the Lego series: Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Harry Potter. I frequently find my kids working together to figure out how they can get beyond an obstacle or find a treasure. This cooperation translates to other aspects of their lives, as you can see when they play board games or build with real Legos.

How families can embrace technology
A former teacher recommended an excellent book which might change your views on kids and video games. The Connected Family: Bridging The Digital Generation Gap by Seymour Papert argues that technology is here to stay, and the only way we can deal with it as parents is to embrace it in ways that enhance our families.

I remember when the Atari 2600 came out, the Apple II, the PC, the family iMac, Sega Genesis. Today it’s Facebook and Twitter and Xbox – same principles, different technology. And every time something new comes out, a certain subset of people have to lash out at it in paranoia, as if this is something new and awful that has suddenly descended upon the planet. Again.

That’s not to say there aren’t dangers on the Internet. Believe me, it’s my job to educate parents on exactly what those dangers are. But you can’t avoid technology for the sake of keeping your kids safe. That’s like never driving your kids anywhere because there might be a car accident.

How our geeky household does it
Here at Chez Guidry, we almost always play video games as a family. The consoles are in the living room so everyone can participate, especially games like Wii Sports. Even if we parents aren’t playing we are still spending time with our kids.

That’s not to say we don’t have rules. Typically there’s no screen time during the school week. We make the occasional exception for important events (like new episodes of MythBusters, which as far as I’m concerned is educational science television). Screen is only allowed on the weekends, and only for limited periods of time. I will also make exceptions for reading ebooks on an e-reader if it’s real reading and not an interactive app that’s more game than book.

Do my kids fight these restrictions? Of course. They want to play video games all the time. (Hey, who doesn’t?) But I don’t let my kids play video games constantly. We don’t take handheld players in the car or to the pediatrician. They know they’ll get to play when it’s appropriate, and they also know that if a punishment goes beyond time-out, the next thing Mom’s going to say is, “You’re grounded from screen time.”

Do you play video games with your kids? What are some of your favorite family-friendly games? Share in the comments!