I’ve always enjoyed playing video games. I have a shirt with a Nintendo controller on it that says “Classically Trained,” and not only is it true, but I wear it with pride. I have always enjoyed the classics, Platformers, RPGs, Fighting Games, and even the occasional First Person Shooter would grab my attention. Over the years, I have always remained connected to video games, playing on a console or computer when the opportunity arose. Later, as I became a public educator and then began working with Black Rocket, I truly saw the educational power that video games possess and how the right games can transform children from simple consumers of technology into producers.
But a funny thing happened as my kids grew older. They too are into video games, but not the same types of video games as me. I’ve always conjured up images of myself locked down in a wood and stone house, surrounded by Zombies and Creepers, fighting off mobs with my two sons at my sides, defending our home in a survival world in Minecraft. That never really happened. My kids were drawn to idle games on their tablets, Simulators and Obbys in Roblox, and basic games that I found to be quite insubstantial.
Another thing would happen after the timer went off and they were asked to get off their devices. An argument would break out. Someone would want a few more minutes, or something that needed to be done around the house would become a point of contention. I grew to dislike video games, not my video games, but the games my kids were playing.
I decided to change that! I was going to enter my kids’ worlds and have them enter mine! I decided that every day for at least a week, I would play a video game with my kids, anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The results surprised me!
At first, when I suggested this, my kids immediately wanted to start with Roblox. We picked a Muscle Simulator game where your character can exercise, work out, and eat and drink healthy shakes and protein to bulk up! For the most part, it was a bit repetitive and not very collaborative, but we were having fun together. We would communicate, “I’m on the treadmill, where are you? Come over here.” After that first day, something surprising happened. When the timer went off we all wrapped up together. We finished that last rep, bought our last muscle bar, and ended the game. There was no argument and we were able to get ready for dinner with the usual hustle and bustle of a typical family who needs to rush out the door and get ready for the next activity, karate in our case.
In the following days, I made it a point to explore other games with my kids. I wanted to encourage collaborative games, but we would also play fighting games on the Switch, RPGs on the computer, and even deck-building games on the phone and tablet. Some of these games were single player and we would sit around and pass the controllers, other times we were locked in head-to-head combat.
My favorite game to play, which I would have played with them every day, if I could, was Minecraft. I have been playing Minecraft on and off since 2015, having trained first on a Minecraft Design course and then on the Education Edition. I have used it in my own classroom with my 5th grade students and saw the power of these tools with them. Minecraft has the ability to transform lessons, allow children to become creators, producers, and designers in a world of their making. There are a multitude of options and play modes available, literally something for everyone. We decided to go classic, “Vanilla,” Minecraft. No mods, no fancy realms or servers, just a local area network where me and my two children played in a survival world together.
It was fun, it was really fun. But the best part was after the game ended. My kids were excited. They wanted to share their ideas with me. They began planning what would happen next in our world and how we would expand our little home base into something bigger. They were excited to play with me and each other!
My kids argued less, they shared with me and each other more. They began to plan who would gather what resources and who would build what addition to our structures. We talked more at the dinner table, we made sure our chores got done a little quicker so that we had a few extra minutes to play on the computers.
In just over a week, collaborative gaming began to transform the relationship I had with my children. It increased communication, made transitional periods smoother, and overall cooperation improved. If video games aren’t your thing, that’s ok too, find another way to connect with your children, perhaps a tabletop or board game. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask them for help if video games are their things. Allowing your children to be the expert is another great way to bond with them.