Our dear friend, Arthur, had tuberculosis. He didn’t have long to live. Sitting in the doctor’s room with the warm late afternoon light filtering in, hearing the news was surreal. We shared a lifetime of adventures, of growing and maturing as the world changed around us.
My children are distressed. They had bonded with this courageous man. They had helped him when he had to make tough moral choices. He taught them so much.
We left the doctor’s surgery, logged out, and turned off the Playstation — time to discuss this sad turn of events.
Play is vital. Life skills, such as regulating emotions, understanding fairness, and making moral choices can’t always be explained — understanding is enhanced by experienced. Children learn by making mistakes, suffering losses and getting up when they fall over. Video games are the perfect arena for these tribulations. If I, as a parent, am not participating, I’m letting them drift in a dangerous vacuum.
When my children were younger, we played games such as Professor Fizwizzle and Reader Rabbit. They were a mix of education, strategy and storytelling, Sometimes there was a competitive element. I needed to be careful — win too much, and the kids will refuse to play, win too little, and they lose respect, and no knowledge will be transferred. There is some excellent research on this topic — it seems purposely losing one out of three, is optimal.
These days my reflexes are waining, and my now teenage offspring are nimble. I try to even things out with mobile games such as Monument Valley and Osmos, or desktop games such as Civilisation. They are not only beautiful to look at, but they also imbue strategy and tactics. Not requiring a fast trigger-response helps even up the scoreboard, and my ego.
However, I’m not ready to hand over the mantle of gaming champion. We often play a game called Overwatch. Two teams, each with six people, compete for various goals. There are many characters to choose from, each with a detailed back-story. I tend to choose ones that are canny and strategic — I can hold my own when times get tough. It’s such a delight to have shared experiences, navigate relationships and overcome obstacles as Team Family.
Overwatch is a fast-growing Esport. Millions of fans follow their favourite teams and cheer on superb skill and gameplay. As casual players, we glean insights into how we can improve ourselves — all the champions play the same characters and maps that we do. We plan on seeing some live events shortly.
Video games can have a dark side too: addiction, time-wasting and a fostering of negative emotions. A gaming parent understands this and can pass on knowledge to those who don’t have tools or resources to cope.
It helps to define gaming time as a special ritual instead of a senseless waste. Make sure you are playing for the right reasons and are not trying to avoid other vital things. Practise mindfulness. The good news is video games will, with some guidance, improve emotional regulation. If you can stay calm in the heat of battle, you can remain calm in other parts of your life.
Games have sparked many discussions about life and the world we live in. The Last of Us is a journey across post-apocalyptic America by an older man and a teenage girl. Their relationship struggled and grew amid chaos and contemplation. The game taught more about positive masculinity than a parental lecture. We were moved to tears when we reached the end.
Games often push you into uncomfortable moral territory. Arthur (with tuberculosis) is from a game called Red Dead Redemption II. This game could be humanity’s most prominent creative work — it took 6,442 employee years to make and has thousands of narrative pathways. Many ethical decisions are required to proceed. Left to their own devices, my children could have taken the evil route. With my expectations clear, they chose the good — as my youngest proudly announced to me.
Parents need to be capable and in control. It’s an unhealthy situation when kids dominate any domain without guidance. Video games included. Ideally, parents should be passing on a lifetime of gaming wisdom.
I’m looking forward to future gaming with my kids. When they leave home, we can have adventures no matter how much physical distance between us. It certainly beats a phone call.