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Keeping Video Games Healthy During Isolation

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Being at home more has inevitably led to more time in front of screens for both adults and children. Some of this is an intentional use of technology to stay in touch, but there is also an unintentional increase of inside leisure time for children, which can mean more video games.

The conversation about the benefits and dangers of video games is accelerating as we lean on technology for things that have previously been face-to-face. The happy early headlines about positive gaming are being joined by articles raising concerns about the impact of screen time on children and of course, adults.

I have worked with families for over fifteen years offering advice on how to enjoy video games as a healthy part of life. This advice hinges on something that is as true now as ever: we need to understand and engage with the technologies our children love, so that we are attuned to the care and guidance they need.

Understanding video games isn’t something I can do justice to in a few paragraphs. But it’s important to see video games as a new media rather than just entertainment for kids. As well as being entertaining, it’s a capable and powerful way to tell stories about the world, engage in all manner of subjects and find connection to other people.

Video games create a virtual space that invites us to do things we wouldn’t or couldn’t normally do in real life. We can be a special forces soldier or take on ambitious building projects, help vulnerable people, soar through the clouds as a superhero or even walk in the shoes of a refugee. In this way, video games connect us to stories and issues with our emotions as much as our intellect.

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Play Together

Finding games to play together during this period is not only a lot of fun, but also anchors video games as part of family life rather than something that happens in bedrooms.

Games like Overcook offer accessible fun that four people can play at once.

Games like Spaceteam offer a more unusual challenge of communication and team-work.

Or games like Wilmot’s Warehouse offer a calmer challenge for two people to organise boxes ready for dispatch.

New Stories

Video games are a great way to engage in stories. Playing a narrative game in a group you can take turns at the controller and experience a grand saga together.

A good place to start is a shorter game like Old Man’s Journey that tells the story of someone reminiscing at the end of their life.

Or there are games like Florence that focus on the beginning of life, new relationships and love.

Calm and Control

It’s helpful to know that children (and adults) may be finding calm and control from the games they play.

Particularly at this time, in an uncertain world, games like Alto’s Adventure lets you escape to a beautiful alpine landscape and fly through the air.

Or there are games like Animal Crossing that take you to a desert island where you make friends, fish and grow fruit trees.

Deeper Reflection

There are even games that offer a chance for some deeper reflection on life’s deeper meaning.

Firewatch is a story about guarding a forest against fires that interweaves a parallel tale of being present in each other’s grief.

Or there are games like Everything that let you inhabit everything in the world from a mountain to a grain of dust. These experiences are great to share together and talk about as you play.

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Guiding children to a wider diet of games and establishing them as something they do with other people and the family, is a great step to keeping things healthy. But it’s also important that you set-up technology correctly too, especially for younger children.

Each game console, smartphone, tablet or computer has a parental control or family settings area where you can limit how long the child can play, which PEGI age rating games they can access, whether they can make purchases and finally how they interact with other players. The AskAboutGames website is a great place for advice on this.

Set these things up with your child so they can own the settings and understand why they are there. Ensure that there is a password in place so they can’t change them without asking. And use each request to play for longer or new games to have a conversation about what they are playing.

If you’re not sure where to start with all this, just sit with your child for 30 minutes or so as they play. This is a great way to gain an understanding of benefits and risks, while also connecting over something they love.

Andy Robertson Studio

About the author

Andy Robertson has been writing about video games for families in national newspapers and for broadcast for 15 years. He wrote the Taming Gaming (taminggaming.com) book for parents and is a regular expert on BBC. He has three children 17, 14 and 12.

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