Andy Robertson is a freelance family technology expert and writes for the BBC, Forbes, Guardian and the Daily Mirror. Andy is the editor of AskAboutGames and has recently published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database (www.taminggaming.com) He is a father of three.
Like any new media that is popular with young people, video games get some scary headlines. Games have evolved significantly in recent years and are really big business. No longer just simple distractions, modern games can tell incredible stories, allow your child to create and inhabit fantastical worlds and educate in exciting ways. For those of us who aren’t gamers, understanding the nature of what your child is playing can be a challenge. This can mean that our main response to them as parents and carers is one of protection and defence rather than ambition and aspirations for what they might bring to the lives of children.
Moving from policing to parenting video game players not only mitigates risks and maximises benefits, but enables us to understand and take part in this big part of our children’s lives. This means that parents can play a role not only to understand the video game content but also the community around the game — both the benefits and any areas to keep an eye on.
Firstly we need to understand that video games are media like books and films than they are something you consume with no cultural value. Because video games tell stories, create space in which to communicate, connect players all over the world and offer technical challenges they are an integral part of modern childhood.
Along with setting boundaries and limits, we also need to help our children understand the games they play and make informed choices about how they spend their time. The issue isn’t just about healthy boundaries on screen time, but what they do when they are at their screens. While screen time limits are a good short term tool, understanding their use and building trust and good habits around screen time is equally important.
While there are well-known games with educational benefits (Minecraft’s creative building, Roblox social interactions and Fortnite healthy competition) there are many other games that also offer learning as you play.
For example there are examples highlighted by the National Literacy Trust (https://www.taminggaming.com/search/category/Get+Children+Reading) recently, that go beyond the hard skills like reading and hand-eye coordination games to also encourage children to develop interpersonal, strategic and reflective skills in ways we might not be aware of. Here are some popular examples.
Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour PEGI 12+ (https://www.taminggaming.com/game/Discovery+Tour) this is the realistic explorable world from the older-rated Assassin’s Creed games, but with out any of the killing or combat. You explore the world to learn about ancient cultures through their architecture. It’s a novel experience, but one that offers an embodied experience of history rather than just reading about it on the page.
Heaven’s Vault PEGI 7 (https://www.taminggaming.com/game/Heavens+Vault) is an experience in an alternate reality where you are unravelling a mystery. You play an archeologist, but not one that’s curvy or gun-touting like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Here, with careful conversations and investigations you piece together an ancient language and learn the secrets of the artefacts you find.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build PEGI 3 (https://www.taminggaming.com/game/A+Good+Snowman+Is+Hard+To+Build) is a snow-person building puzzle game. What is unusual is that each of the puzzles links to each other. As you solve one you can move through an exit to the next. Each needs critical thinking to complete while also ensuring that it doesn’t feel pressured or too tense. It’s a game where you learn and relax at the same time.
Mini Metro PEGI 3 (https://www.taminggaming.com/game/Mini+Metro) is a subway/underground transport planner. Unlike other sim-style games, this offers a super simple and light touch approach. You slowly create different tube lines with your finger, to transport the passengers to their matching shape stations. It starts simply but requires forward planning and contingency forethought to do well at.
These games are the tip of the iceberg. You can find a longer list here (https://www.taminggaming.com/search/category/Educational+Games+That+Are+Also+Good+Games) to suit the age and interests of your family. Along with this resource you can also ensure you have setup your console or smartphone with the appropriate settings with advice on the AskAboutGames website that is designed to help parents and carers have conversations with children and then apply automatic limits.
Maximising the Positives
One of the best ways to minimise risk and maximise the positives of video games is to play them together as a family. Games like Overcooked, Moving Out or Towerfall are not only a lot of fun, but they open the door to why our children enjoy spending their time playing.
By playing these sorts of games together we can anchor them as a part of family life rather than something that competes for that time. We also get to share in this aspect of childhood and gain a more informed understanding of the appeal.
Young people are constantly engaged in online play, with continuous access via phones, tablets and consoles. For parents, it can be worrying especially with so many aspects of gaming being unfamiliar to many adults, but it doesn’t need to be. Online video gaming can provide a hugely positive space for young people. It is more important than ever that parents utilise the informative resources available to them so they understand both the positives and potential risks of video gaming in order to keep their children safe online.
Andy Robertson runs the Family Video Game Database (www.taminggaming.com) which provides parents and carers with the information they need to make informed choices about video games and discover a wider range of experiences for their family. It features guidance on over 600 recommended video games including advice on accessibility, loot boxes, duration and PEGI ratings. He recently wrote the Taming Gaming book (https://www.waterstones.com/book/taming-gaming/andy-robertson/9781783528929).
Andy will be working with YGAM to further develop our Parent Hub website www.parents.ygam.org