Family Bonding Through Video Games — Part 1

During 2015, my daughter and I embarked on a quest. It wasn’t a planned quest. It just kind of evolved as we went from one weekend to the next. The result was that we ended up bonding over several video games. I’ve always enjoyed playing games, but over the past few years I’ve realized that I don’t enjoy playing by myself and I don’t enjoy playing with others unless they are sitting right beside me. I’ve also realized that my daughter is, for the most part, the same way.

There are a few reasons that this discovery is important to me. First, it reaffirms my belief that games are a great way for children to bond with the adults in their lives. This is the whole reason that Mantis Digital Arts creates games. Second, it gives me and my daughter something new to talk about. She gets excited when funny, crazy, or interesting things happen in video games. She also enjoys both competitive and cooperative games– digital or board/card games. Finally, it lets me see how she reacts in many different types of situations — stressful, excited, sad, under pressure, etc….

With all of that said, I thought it would be interesting to share the list of games that we played together during 2015. For each game, I’ve shared a bit about the game, the platforms where the game can be found, and the reasons why we enjoyed playing them. The list will be spread across four or five posts in order to keep it manageable and not a chore to read.

Black Ice: The Game

Black Ice puts you in the shoes of a hacker who is out to dominate every corporation that exists in this cyberpunk role-playing game. Your goal is to build up your powers, collect equipment that will enhance your abilities, and make your way to the ultimate hack while protecting yourself against the defenders of each corporation. You can play alone, but it’s much more fun to play online with up to 9 other players. The visuals, fast paced action, and easy to grasp controls are what make Black Ice stand out. This game is by far one of my favorite games.

While Black Ice doesn’t allow us to play together locally, it does offer the enjoyment of watching each other play solo or online with others. We can help each other out, take turns at the controls, and have fun talking about what’s happening in this fast paced environment. There are times where the need to focus on many things at once can become overwhelming. I tend to take over during these moments. With Black Ice, my daughter gets to learn a bit about playing online with others, forming a strategy around which buildings to hack next, and determining which weapons or upgrades help the most based on their effects or multipliers.


I suppose that most people have heard of Minecraft. Kids and adults alike love playing this game where you can create almost anything that you can imagine in a world made of blocks. People have built things as simple as a house made out of blocks to things as complicated as full replicas of major world cities, functioning in-game computers, and music composition tools. In addition, there are hundreds of resource packs that can be downloaded to change the visual style of the game. The game also lets you create, host, and join private servers with the game running.

With that said, I was late to the Minecraft party. I tried playing Minecraft several times between the year it official released (2011) into early 2015. I couldn’t get into it. I thought it was too big and had no purpose. The reason that I didn’t enjoy it is that I was playing it the wrong way. I should’ve been playing with others — specifically, with others sitting there in the same room. That’s how Minecraft is the most fun. Around the middle of 2015, after my daughter asked me to try it again, we sat down and played together. First, we each focused on our own areas where we built houses, dug out caves, and mined for resources. Then, we started working in the same areas of the game to connect our houses together to form a small village. She showed me how to use redstone to make things move. I taught her to make better looking and more functional buildings by thinking about the design before starting to build. This was all in creative mode as she was a bit hesitant to play in survival mode.

Through most of the second half of 2015, I also found that I enjoyed playing Minecraft a bit on my own. I enjoy playing in survival mode for the additional challenge. My goal was for my daughter to watch me play in survival mode so that she would, hopefully, get more comfortable with trying that mode as well. She still didn’t like it. Eh, maybe this year.

Minecraft is one of those games that is flexible when it comes to educational potential. It is possible to develop basic skills related to engineering, design, computing, architecture, and survival while also learning about different trees, flowers, plants, animals, and other elements in the natural world around us. It lets you learn about how water flows, how ice forms, and how fire spreads. It can also teach how plants grow, how being nice to animals can be beneficial, and how to protect yourself by building a shelter. The appeal of Minecraft is that it is a massive open world where your imagination is the main limitation of what is possible.

  • Developer: Mojang
  • Designer(s): Markus Persson
  • Game Engine: Custom Java Engine (enabled by LWJGL)
  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, Widnows Phone, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Raspberry Pi, Wii U


In Spelunky, you control a spelunker who starts the game with nothing more than a whip, a grappling hook, and a few bombs. The game is presented as a series of levels divided into a set of worlds (e.g., 1–1, 1–2, 1–3, 1–4, 2–1, etc…). For those of you familiar with Super Mario Bros, this will sound familiar. Each level is randomly generated. This means that every time you play level 1–1, it will be different. There are enemies to avoid, new equipment to find, gems and gold to gather, and shopkeepers to anger. The beautiful part about this game is that there are secrets all over the place. Certain weapons or equipment can only be made by combining items together. There are also secret levels that can only be accessed by finding special items, blowing up certain areas in levels with bombs, or sacrificing one of the damsels in distress to a huge worm.

On the Playstation and Xbox consoles, up to 4 players can play together locally in a multiplayer version. There are two ways that multiplayer works. The first is co-op where the players work together to complete levels and the second is death-match where the players fight against each other.

My daughter and I really enjoy the silliness of this game. Playing together in local multiplayer mode is fun as you can either help or hurt each other. When one of you dies in the game, your ghost follows the other player around until they restore you to your body. As a ghost, you can affect the environment as well. The most fun is had by discovering all of the secrets in the game. That’s where we spend most of our time when playing together. The main skill that is reinforced with Spelunky is the need to be patient. Blazing through the levels quickly without thinking about your next move can be treacherous — especially when playing with others.

Gauntlet: Slayer Edition

Gauntlet was originally released as an arcade game by Atari in 1985. The original designer, Ed Logg, was inspired by watching his son play the paper-based Dungeon & Dragons. I played this as a kid in the arcade and on both the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600. The latest incarnation of the game is a re-imagining of the game with significant visual improvements; however, the core game play remains the same as the original version.

In the game, you can choose to play as a Warrior, a Valkyrie, an Elf, or a Wizard. You play from a top down perspective so that you are looking down at the action as you smash, chop, shoot, or use spells to blast your way through hordes of skeletons, zombies, cavemen, and various other enemies that are out to devour you. You can upgrade your character as you progress by collecting the various gold and gems that you find in each dungeon. Many of the upgrades are visual only; however, there are special abilities that you can add to your character that will help as you progress through each stage of the dungeon.

We enjoy playing this one together as it lets us work together towards a common goal. There are times when the action is slow and you can think about how to handle the small amount of incoming creatures; however, there are also some really fast-paced moments where you’re battling a room full of creatures. During these times, we quickly assess the types of the creatures and the size of the room and then divide up how we’re going to handle it. At first, I was the one determining who needed to do what in order for us to make it out alive; however, my daughter has started doing this as well. The result is that she’s starting to learn how to quickly determine possible outcomes of a given situation and pick a path forward. Sometimes the path forward is effective. Sometimes it is not and we die a horrible death. We just load it back up and try again.

My goal is to inspire you to grab one of these games, sit down with one (or more) of the kids in your life, and have fun spending time with them. If you play one or more of these games and want to share what you and your kids thought, send me a quick message on Twitter, Facebook, or via email. For the next post, I’ll focus on four puzzle games that we enjoyed on Xbox, Playstation Vita, and the Amazon FireTV.

Thanks for reading!


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