Are video games bad once again? As in the 1980s and 1990s, games have their detractors today. One doesn’t have to go far to see the same kind of narrow-minded, secondhand criticism we once saw back in the day. Video games were linked to epilepsy, autism, or Satan, to name a few. Three decades later, armies of concerned parents and sensationalist outlets often couple them with violent crime and the utterly sad epidemic of mass shootings. or even just Fortnite taking up too much of young peoples’ time.
Like other forms of widely distributed media (literature, music, film) in the past, video games received blame for a slew of society’s inner terrors. Kids today may not develop ADHD because of exposure to screens, they may have a propensity for screen addiction because they have ADHD. Let’s just observe the widely spread parental practice of using a screen as a digital pacifier, a shortcut to scrape some me-time from an already overbearing, routine life.
If teenagers drop out of high school to play League of Legends or Fortnite, it may be an indication that the education system needs to adapt. Novel technology should encourage us to find new ways to motivate future generations of students. And possibly the social-economical weave has changed, so the idea of being a professional Fortnite player is as a good a career choice as being a lawyer.
Our answer: Video games are not inherently bad. We believe that games can bring families together and in ways no other medium could. Here’s why.
The benefits of games
Games are showing they can improve focus and problem solving skills as seen in Weiyi Ma’s work at the University of Arkansas. This directly contradicts the public opinion regarding the “side effects” of games. We need to start looking at video games as a learning tool, like chess, theater, or sports. Beyond the individual benefits of practicing mental skills, focus and coordination, there are potential benefits for that little social experiment we call family. In a study conducted by Arizona State University about the use of games by participants of all ages, it’s noted that the more parents and their children play games together, the closer they become.
Elizabeth Hayes, the Delbert & Jewell Lewis Chair in Reading & Literacy and professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, put it best.
“Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids. Often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving. Gaming with their children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’”
ASU’s done a bang-up job with its Impact Guides, which show how parents and their game-playing kids can work together to identify the right kinds of games to play. I mean, it’s probably not a good idea to let your 6 year-old boot up the new Resident Evil 2 remake, but there are plenty of good options.
How to connect
If you play with your kids, if you seek to understand their love of games rather than chastise them for it, you could wind up enriching your relationship with them. That’s why we’re so proud of the work we’re doing at Melbot Studio.
We are building on the foundation refined by the family entertainment giants. Think of the jokes in an animated movie only parents will laugh at. The content aims at the young but is designed for adults to enjoy with them. The key is to give a familiar feeling, give your child an experience which is also enjoyable for you, the parent. These companies are banking on a very relevant phenomenon: There is a whole new generation of gamer moms and dads with purchasing power. The world has seen a number of products that are setting a trend, devices like Nintendo Switch, targeted equally to parents and children. The hybrid console is kid friendly but with tons of nostalgia built in, often with the clear focus on sharing that unifying screen.
Similarly, the PS4 PlayLink initiative aims to bring players and non players together, but with a twist. It breaks the barrier to entry of learning a new controller by using ubiquitous mobile devices – who doesn’t have a tablet or a smartphone? Our game Melbits World, for example, one of PlayLink’s latest titles, goes one step further, making it a collaborative experience, uniting instead of competing. What could be more inclusive than cell phones bringing a family together instead of dividing it?
While this trend grows, how do we approach the need for kids and parents to play together? We shall look at the issue from a pragmatic standpoint. If you are a gamer parent you will enjoy gaming with your kids. If you are a parent concerned about your kid playing way too much, join them. Spend quality time with your children. Video games, like sports, can build focus, social and problem solving skills, and especially at an early age, can create a strong bond between parents and children.
Huge untapped territory
As gaming is progressively viewed as a healthy family activity, it begins to project huge potential in the mid/long-term. If we think about the average family, it clearly shows that video games are an entertainment choice that is not just convenient, but participative and that can encourage teamwork and family bonding…and there’s much more than multiplayer or co-op titles in Console or PC. Consider out-of-home gaming, like esports tournaments or video game trade shows or even a monthly subscription to the new generation of arcade and VR rooms that we start seeing popping up!
This is just the beginning of the new age of family games, and it will soon be a tradition, like football Sundays, or taking your kids to the ball game. It’s up to us to accept and promote video games as a healthy form of family bonding — bonding that will help nurture family values and develop skills for the next generation. We have the power to use screens not as a divider, or an escape, but as a tool for growth and connection to our loved ones.
Ivan Exposito is the CEO and co-founder of Melbot Studio.