Portland Family Features GameTruck and Play3

Game Truck: Playing Games Together

By Rachel Coussens

Video games are notorious for being at the root of disagreements between parents and their children. “Only five more minutes,” a child might plead. “But we need to go pick up your brother now,” a parent counters.

GameTruck, a company that brings video games to birthday parties and other events, has a new educational program, Play3, that’s designed to inspire parents and their children to change their approach to video games. “Computers and games offer kids some of the most incredible experiences and opportunities to learn,” says the founder of GameTruck, Scott Novis. “The problem is that kids are learning to use them in isolation and that sets them on a course of unhealthy play.”

Setting boundaries and rules for children has shown its benefits. According to the 2010 study Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 30 percent of young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend playing video games. Those with rules spend nearly three hours less with media per day than those without rules. Mother Amy Johnston doesn’t allow her 10-year-old son to play video game more than an hour per day.

At Play3, GameTruck suggests that parents and their children fill out a “gaming agreement.” The document lists what ESRB-rated games the child is allowed to play, where games will be played, the maximum hours of play allowed, and the amount of other activities, such as homework, that a child will do in return for their gaming time. The company advocates that parents do a little homework of their own by researching their child’s favorite games. To ensure that games are not played in isolation, GameTruck asks parents to set aside a few hours a week to play with their child, creating a social gaming environment. “It asks that parents get involved with their child and gaming so they know what kinds of games,” says Tony Karais, the owner of GameTruck. “So that they spend time playing together and spend time playing socially with their kids.”

Play3 consists of a presentation at a youth organization or a school, where the children are given a handout with GameTruck’s gaming agreement. “We’ll talk about it, and if the school is up for it, we will do some playtime afterwards,” Karais says. GameTruck has made appearances at local events and schools to show people how gaming can be social, fun and safe. At a farmer’s market over the summer, Karais came across a woman and her three-year-old grandson. Both had little to no experience with video games, yet GameTruck made it fun and educational. “We brought them on and set up Wii and showed them how to bowl. The three-year-old boy figured it out right away, and she figured it out too,” Karais says. “She thought it was great and said, ‘I haven’t bowled in 30 years.’”

GameTruck doesn’t just do Play3 parties, it also does birthday parties, corporate functions or any celebration. It is a mobile party with four 50-inch plasma televisions that fit up to 16 players at a time. The 50 feet long truck carries multiplayer games on X-Box 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Players can play against each other or in teams playing one game for the whole truck, or four separate games. The idea is to get people playing games together. Each party has a GameCoach, who helps switch games or give hints on play. Parties cost $299 for the first two hours, $100 for each additional weekday hour and $125 for each additional weekend hour.

Parents choose the games at the party. Johnston made changes to the game line up for her child’s 10th birthday. “I choose to take off the games rated M [Mature] because I didn’t want any of the littler kids to get in trouble for playing games that weren’t appropriate for their age,” Johnston says. The GameTruck has more than 62 games for parents to choose from. “We always bring the parents in before the party starts and we have all the games organized by rating. We ask, ‘What are they allowed to play?’ Sometimes it’s no shooting games, so we take them off the wall and put them away. The kids don’t even see them, so they aren’t there,” Karais says.

Playing games helps get children more comfortable with technology. Julie Hanna, a mother of four, says that her children are more confident navigating technology. “If the TV goes out, my eight-year-old has to grab the remote and fix the TV,” she says. Video games have their benefits, which is why it is worth working out an agreement between parents and children. “It’s hand-eye coordination and a little escape. They get a piece of superheroes or superpowers and then they put on their cape and they fly around the room,” Hanna says. “It is time for them to be a kid and I think that time is so short.”

Rachel Coussens (www.rachelcoussens.com) works as a freelance writer.

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8. Game Truck Party

Tempe, Ariz.
Founded: 2006

It was 2006 and Scott Novis was frustrated with the pizza arcade experience at his son’s 4th birthday party. Children were running around unmonitored, and the games were boring and static; most of the kids had better games and graphics on their home game boxes than what was being offered at the party. So not long afterward, he went home and, in his garage, retrofitted a truck with gaming consoles, flat-screen monitors and cool interiors, creating the first GameTruck portable gaming party. He threw a birthday party for a friend and, soon, GameTruck was a thriving weekend business. Since then, the company has grown to nearly $2 million in revenue, and is thriving with nearly 40 trucks in 20 locations across the country and 12 employees in its home office. The company also offers franchise opportunities.