Video games are the perfect family bonding tool if used right

Finding a shared activity within the family dynamic can be difficult.

Not everyone wants to kick a football, watch that movie on Netflix, or play monopoly for six hours because rule-breaking deals mean it never ends.

This wide variety of activities can be daunting for first-timers, and whilst this is definitely also true for video games, the fact that the barrier for entry is the same for most across the board — learning how to hold and use a controller and going from there — means that there’s so many more options for families.

This isn’t to say video games are the one and only answer to families playing together. Of course they aren’t. But they do offer a plethora of experiences both co-operative and competitive that families can engage with. This engagement will most likely come from the bottom up, as children are already playing games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox. So they can help parents adjust to how games work, and what it means to play them.

“We can really see the benefits of gaming,” says Nicola Jones, 31, the community engagement and fundraising officer at Everyone Can, a charity that brings together disabled children and their families to game together. “We’ve seen how it’s impacted the children’s confidence, their social skills, and more.”

“We do say to parents when they bring their children that they’ve got to stay in the centre,” adds Jones, with the idea being that parents can see first hand how their children interact with others through games and the joy it brings them.

“I know that parents will go home and buy the games their children play here. They see how much their children love playing, that we have family friendly games, and then they’ll end up playing them and having an understanding of them at home as well as with us.”

A charity like Everyone Can is the perfect gateway that shows families the value video games can have in the home, especially for children who might not be able to join in with physical activities. Even siblings without disabilities are encouraged to join in.

All of the games Everyone Can has are family friendly, with plenty of them encouraging both competitive and co-operative play.

“I think they both [competitive and co-operative games] have difference values for children,” explains Jones. “Competitive ones work quite well, as some can struggle with losing. But afterwards they can adjust to the fact that it’s just a game, it’s about fun, not about winning all the time.”

“Co-operative games then really help with general social skills between both friends and family. The sort of ‘forced interaction’ is something younger family members might not be entirely comfortable with straight away, but games like that will help build confidence,” Jones adds.

Of course these types of family experiences can, and should, be gained from other places as well. The point is that video games are filled with diverse experiences that offer families the opportunity for some friendly competition and to work together to achieve a goal.

“We’ve been gaming since we came here,” says Heather Greatbatch, 42, the parent of a child who comes to Everyone Can. “My husband is a lifelong PC gamer, that’s how my daughter Lilia got in gaming, she’s been playing Minecraft since the age of 2 or 3 with her dad. I even bought myself a Nintendo Switch a few years ago.”

For the Greatbatch family, video games have become more than just a simple pastime. The whole family shares the activity, so even when they’re playing games on their own they all have something they can relate to each other through.

Playing games both in and out of family life can then create social dynamics, and having them evolve in the family home means that parents can exercise control over who their children talk to, instead of just letting them run free online.

“There’s a stereotype about kids who play video games having no social life,” says Greatbatch. “But my daughter is just starting to get used to the idea of playing games online and then speaking to who she is playing with at the same time, so I don’t think it’s true.”

Seeing the impact video games can have first hand either by watching family members play or playing yourself can really open up your eyes to the positives. As mentioned though, having that control over what is played, and how long it’s played for, is vital.

“In terms of games within the family dynamic, it’s something I have to mediate a lot of the time and I do that by finding more and more co-op games, even really simple ones that can easily be picked up and played,” Greatbatch adds.

What games the family play really depends on what values the parent wants to bestow on their child. As according to therapist and social worker Andrew Fishman, 31, “understanding the fundamentals of the games children play can give parents some extra tools to raise their children while avoiding unnecessary conflict.”

Fishman is by no means telling parents how to raise their children, instead promoting the idea that having a shared understanding of your child’s hobbies can lead to better interaction. Fishman points to the example that if a parent understands that an online game with friends can’t just be stopped or walked away from, like any sports match, then friction can be avoided.

“When they ask kids to stop playing in the middle of a match, they might be making their kids choose between their parents and their friends. It’s not a battle parents are likely to win, and it often ends in an argument.”

Again, this isn’t to say video games are the only answer or that parents should roll over. It’s about balance. Video games are a part of modern life, there’s no two ways about it, so parental understanding ofthem can lead to a shared activity for the family, and even allow for better moderation of what children are playing and how long for.

The sheer number of experiences and ideas video games present mean that parents can be selective, sticking with family friendly, non-violent games that promote positive engagement between players. There’s a world of games to play out there, and families should explore them.

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