My son loves video games because he’s seven years old and he lives on this planet. They’re unavoidable. I’m forty-one, and I play them. I’ve been playing them since I was his age, and, much to my utter delight, he’s even playing some of the games I used to play.
Thanks to the Nintendo Switch breathing life back into games from the '80s and ’90s, my son plays the exact version of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World, and Streetfighter 2 that I used to play. This means that not only is there a beautiful connection between the two of us where we share a love of games, but it also means I’m so well versed in the games he’s playing that I absolutely destroy him at them. Demolish him in ways he didn’t even know existed until he dared to suggest a rematch.
He may be seven, but I’m not relinquishing this Mario Kart crown without a fight, or at the very least without tossing a banana peel at him.
They're not that bad
Like most men under the age of 50, I’ve been playing video games since I was a child, so I understand how addictive they can be and how detrimental they can be if not monitored and screen time appropriately regulated, but I also appreciate the benefits. And if I’m to be completely honest, I’m aware of and resent how video games are viewed as a whole. Said to be nothing more than a waste of time, a day squandered living in a fantasy world, and so on.
Yet this is never said of books and film. Am I comparing the works of Hitchcock or Dickens to Donkey Kong? Yes, because we’re talking about children, not cinephiles and bookworms. Each to their own.
It's a family thing
But as I said, I think screen time does need to be regulated. And it is in my house, not just for one but for all. We don’t have screens when we eat, and we prioritise interaction with each other over staring at a device. You know, the usual stuff we all implement because we know it’s the right thing to do but often regret it after a few hands of Uno and an argument about which set of rules we’re playing by that evening.
So are there any benefits to letting your kids play video games?
Yes. For one thing, you get to buy them all the cool games you want, and say it’s for them. Let me tell you, my son has games he didn’t know existed on systems he didn’t even know he had.
There are other benefits
But more important than me building an enormous games library to compensate for my growing up poor, games are not only great for children’s fine motor skills, they teach them how to lose with grace.
Ok, very little grace, but that does come with time.
Like any game, there’s ample opportunity to teach your child about the importance of participating and persevering with something until you become good at it.
And that enjoying that process is as important as mastering it. Teaching them about the simple art of practice makes perfect.
More than just a game
My son, like most kids his age, is really into Minecraft. Honestly, I don’t get it, and that’s fine. I’m old and stupid; I don’t need to get everything; I just need to support him in the things he shows interest in. I watched him go from barely being able to hold the controller, for lack of size and dexterity, to be able to build things in that game while he barely looked at the screen.
Many of the games he enjoys involve a level of coding, something utterly alien to me. I used to marvel at how pressing a button made Mario jump. He’s learning how to map controls and build characters and worlds for them to function in. I have to believe that level of computer literacy will be helpful to him at some stage.
Games like these also helped with his reading. Onscreen prompts and instructions were far more engaging to him than Winnie the Pooh (sorry bear, you’ll always have my heart), and his level of comprehension excelled considerably.
This will be divisive; I know that. I’m of a generation that grew up on video games and didn’t stop because they advanced at such a rate they were difficult to ignore. Now my son is growing up in a time where Minecraft Education is a thing. He’s extremely good at a lot of these games, and he enjoys them; we enjoy them together. And we’ll continue to enjoy them together until the day comes when he beats me at Mario Kart.
On that day, games are bad, and they’re the root cause of societal demise.