Let’s go back to a can of worms that I almost cracked open in a previous post. If I may, I’d like to open up the floor for a discussion on video games and what role (if any) they are (or should be) allowed to play in our lives and relationships as dads.
It feels almost taboo to attempt to spark this sort of discussion. Especially as a dad.
At best, it seems, video games are a juvenile hobby unfit for those in the ranks of fatherhood. A fad meant to be outgrown once you are able to claim dependents when filing your taxes. They aren’t even listed in the book of 101 Kosher Pastimes for Dads. (This actually makes sense when you realize that such a book doesn’t actually exist.)
At worst, they are an addictive pastime that keeps men from spending time with their families. Or that hampers the development of their children. Dr. Arch Hart was on Focus’ daily broadcast with his daughter, Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd (authors of a new book called The Digital Invasion), and they reminded parents of a few of the ways video games can be a detrimental influence in our lives if left unchecked.
The truth is that I enjoy playing video games. I don’t have a lot of time to play. But I enjoy playing them nonetheless. When healthy boundaries and limits are put in place, whether they are personal or parental, I believe that video games can be a good way to relax, unwind, and spend time with friends and family. And, in spite of their cautionary warnings, this belief doesn’t actually contradict with the wisdom Drs. Hart and Hart Frejd shared.
In the right context, video games can facilitate positive, beneficial experiences for dads. They can provide us inroads with our kids in ways similar to most activities that have historically been shared between fathers and their children.
Am I saying that video games are a replacement for healthier, outdoor activities? No. Not by any means.
But I am suggesting that maybe we don’t have to be afraid of video games as a whole. Not as afraid as we often have been, anyways. Research has shown that video games can actually provide another fun, interactive way for parents to enhance their relationship with their children.
Plugged In’s resident video game expert, Bob Hoose, has written on this topic more than a few times and has some great insight when it comes to recognizing that not all video games are the sort of sinister fiends who make a habit of congregating in dimly-lit bars as they conspire to warp the minds of your children.
So, if video games aren’t all bad, what’s a dad to do? How can we appreciate the positive benefits of gaming without falling prey to the negative effects?
First off, Bob gives some excellent suggestions in his post, so be sure to check them out.
Secondly, take advantage of games that still have well-defined stopping points. Sports games are great in this regard. It’s hard to beat the sweet finality of the final buzzer. (It’s less sweet when you’re inexplicably out-dueled by your father-in-law in a virtual Tim Tebow v. Aaron Rodgers Madden 11 throw down.) Levels in platforming games, like any of the Super Mario Bros. or Rayman titles, also tend to be shorter and make it easier to define time limits.
Of course, it’s always good to take part in the enjoyment with our kids, so don’t be afraid to pick up that Wii remote again, even if your son or daughter continually show you no mercy in the Wii Sports Boxing arena.
What might be even more important, though, is that we use the opportunity to teach our kids how to take responsibility for their playing habits. It’s all well and good—and often very necessary—to set hard limits as a parent. But it is also good to encourage our kids to internalize the lessons by talking things through with them and allowing them to have a part in the discussion of limits. That way they have a baseline for when they get older and don’t have dear old dad around to tell them their brain is going to rot if they play one more minute of Jetpack Joyride.
So, fellow dads, what I’d like to know is how (or if) video games can be (or are) one of the many diverse ways you interact with your kids (or even other dads, for that matter)? Do you avoid video games altogether or strive to find a harmonious balance between real and virtual worlds?