Playing video games (or any kind of game for that matter) with children can be an enjoyable experience or the most infuriating thing in human existence.
Take the photo above for instance. No one looks that happy right? That family isn’t yelling at each other. It’s funny because one of the kids thinks he’s actually playing Super Mario and honestly they really shouldn’t be sitting so close to the TV. The game they’re supposed to be playing is set beside the system on the table. In all honesty, that picture is just all kinds of fucked up the more I look at it.
Our family game nights definitely don’t look like this either…
The photo below is more relatable to our family video game nights…
Like anything though, it’s not all bad. Watching my son (5) and daughter (8) learn and grow as gamers is a great experience as a dad. Seeing them conquer a level that has been giving them a hard time without asking for help is extremely rewarding. It’s always awesome to see them build these crazy things in Minecraft that they just make up in their heads. They problem solve and there’s minimal bickering. It boggles my mind that they can build entire villages and work together for the greater good, but five minutes later they’re arguing over who gets to sit in the “cool” chair at the dining room table for supper (obviously my chair is the cool chair, but they refuse to accept that).
My parents rarely played video games with me. When they purchased the original NES for Christmas back in 1990, the main ones they did end up loving the most were Mega Man 2 (Mom) and Duck Hunt (Dad). On the GameBoy, Mom loved her Tetris. When their interest dwindled, I continued to become more obsessed with each new game system that would be announced and wanted to play every single game I read about in a magazine (that hasn’t changed). As the years went on, the only game that could hold my parent’s attention for longer than five minutes was Mario Kart. It was a game changer (literally) in our household. It was like being exposed to colour TV for the first time. My mom would twist her arms when she would make a turn like she was actually driving the kart. Although my parents didn’t love games as much as I did, they enjoyed them because I did. My parents and their support inspired me to take interest in whatever my kids love. It was a sensitive subject when talking to others about video games when I was young because being a “nerd” was a “bad” thing. Now, it’s the norm, and I just don’t give a shit. If I want to dress up as Mario to go to the doctor’s office, fuck you, I’m dressing up as Mario to go to the doctor’s office.
In the past 30 years, video games have changed drastically from when I started out. The first game I set eyes on involved a plumber on a mission to save a princess, the other involved shooting ducks. Now, kids can strap on VR headsets and step inside a virtual world to save the princess that I could only see on a TV screen. Those ducks I mentioned now literally can dive bomb attack your face, causing you to jump back in horror. Objectives have also changed in newer games. The games I used to play when I was young had goals. Back in my day, there were things that needed to be done. You couldn’t mess around. April O’ Neil wasn’t going to save herself in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, I had to absolutely make sure my turtle was the one April was kissing in the back of the turtle van when we saved her (that kinda sounds awful when you read it out loud).
My kids (like many others) are just happy spending hours and hours building houses or jumping into 99 player battle royales. Fortnite has recently invaded our house (I’ll be the first to admit that I love it and I love to call it Forkknife. I also have no clue how to do the floss). I play on the Xbox One and the daughter plays on the Nintendo Switch (curse you Playstation and your lack of crossplay). Minecraft continues to be a big hit in our house. I think it encourages some real “out of the box” thinking. There’s teamwork to come from it. My kids can build some amazing stuff and they’re much, much better at it than I am. Before they passed their vast knowledge onto me, a typical first night in Minecraft for myself involved hiding in a hole in the ground until morning. Now, I build my wooden houses like a boss on day one, son. However, lately I’m wary when the kids ask me to join them in a game of Minecraft because it always seems to go one of two ways:
We build a thriving wood cabin/farm with crops and animals and we go mining together and we are productive and it’s a wonderful experience.
We go mining and my five-year-old son misses the ground and hits me with his pickaxe. He realizes it would just be way more fun to kill me and the game quickly devolves into me fighting for my life against him for the rest of eternity or until I finally decide to shut the game off before I Forkknife someone in the head.
Despite those moments where my son or daughter betrays me (it’s adorable, in a serial killer kind of way), I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
What’s different now from when I was young is my parents didn’t embrace the video game craze like I did. Because of this, I have a headstart and get to give little history lessons to the kids (I like to say “well, back in my day” a lot. I’m 33). We recently hooked the N64 up and bought a new controller (the joystick on our blue one crapped out) and we’ve been playing Mario Tennis and Super Mario 64. Taking my kids back in time is always fun and they’re just so impressed by my knowledge. It feels good. What interests me interests them and vice versa. They inspire me to look closer at what they find new and exciting, and I love to open up their eyes to the things I grew up with. New games coming out are something that we can look forward to together. This past March, we went to a game convention called EGLX in Toronto and had a wonderful experience checking out all the new things coming up. The kids are already talking about how they want to go again next year.
Even if your interests in anything may differ with your children (my love for Final Fantasy has yet to pass onto them, but mark my words, IT WILL), sharing and embracing interests with your kids is one of life’s greatest joys. Any parent can relate to this. As mine get older, I cannot wait to see what they get into. What games will we play together online while they’re off at college or university? What games will their kids be playing? (I will teach my grandchildren how to play Forkknife and to do the floss).
Sure, it’s important to teach them plenty of other things, like how to start a campfire or wrestle a bear, but let us nerd dads have our moment. My daughter just got her twelfth #1 Victory Royale! (with cheese). – NVJ