While we have expanded our stay at home lives to include as many outdoor activities as possible, it is video games that have replaced TV in our house.

We are blessed in my household.  We have every kind of gaming system you can imagine.  In fact, people often ask me what TV shows I’m watching during COVID and Truthfully answer, “None.”  While we have expanded our stay at home lives to include as many outdoor activities as possible, it is video games that have replaced TV in our house.

While I don’t expect anyone else to go to this extreme, I do think it is important to share the tremendous opportunity you might be missing out on if you are not taking a few minutes to sit down and play video games with your kids.  I heard from Jane McGonigal that while 8 out of 9 parents will go watch their child play sports.

Figure 1. Eight out of nine parents will watch their child play sports.

However, she also shared that fewer than one in nine will sit down and play a video game with them.

Figure 2. Fewer than one in nine parents will play a video game with their child.

This week my daughter invited me to play Portal 2 with her.  I jumped at the chance. Not only because I love the game, but because games like Portal 2 give me several opportunities to connect with Rebecca.

First, I want to encourage her to explore a STEM career.  She works hard and gets good grades in Science and Math, and she is extremely comfortable with technology.  She has helped set her friends up to play video games, and the other day I through an IT (information technology) challenge that normally her brother would handle.  She wanted a PS4 in her room (I have spares sadly), but she needed to separate my account from hers and copy the games over.  I told her I would be there to help if she needed it.

She did not.

She went through the gyrations every IT manager goes through downloading updates, patches, copying huge files, having it fail, starting over again.  It is enough to make you wonder why anyone wants to do that job.  And yet, under her own direction she managed to get it all set up with no help (but lots of encouragement) from me.  She was motivated to finish playing Persona 5.  I leveraged that motivation to help her learn something about herself.  She can tackle hard problems.

Playing a game like Portal 2 together, therefore was not only a chance to bond, but a tremendous change to learn something about problem solving.  We could have done the same thing playing Minecraft together, but the point is, I sat back and let her take the lead.  Playing together is totally different than going for a walk, or a hike, or tossing a ball around.  Those are all great, but it’s hard to see how my kids problem solve and exercise critical thinking in the face of difficult challenges.

In Portal 2, you have to solve these fascinating physics puzzles – Snipper Clips on the Nintendo Switch is very similar.  Letting her lead the discovery, and solution finding allowed me to see just how much she has grown up.  As Rebecca is a teenager, I did not have to do as much emotional coaching as I did when she was younger.  However, there were still moments when I became frustrated with the game and I could role model for her healthy behaviors on how to deal with challenges.  I watched her use the same techniques I use.  She slowed down, focused on her breath, and blead the emotion out of the situation so she could think.  We have a saying, “high emotion equals low intelligence.”  When you get calm, you can start to find the opportunity in the problem.

A screenshot of Portal 2

She always found a way through the level, and in truth she does a better job of completing games than I do.

After we would complete a “run” we would spend time talking about design.  As a parent, my job is not only to enjoy the precious time together (I can still remember when she stopped holding my hand in the parking lot.  Life goes by so fast), but to help build a bridge to her future.  I have been blessed that by working in the video game industry I see video games completely differently than most people.  Together, we could contrast and compare how games like Zelda create a sense of wonder and awe to how Portal 2 manufactures these “aha” moments that make the game so compelling and rewarding.

However, it would not matter if I worked in video games or not, because really all I am doing is connecting my personal professional experience to the “work” we did together in the game.  And that’s the job.  I have experiences she does not, and I see things that are not yet visible to her.  I can use our shared experience to connect what she is doing now in the game, to what she could be doing in the future.  When I hit a vein that resonates (like design work), we run with it.  If we talk about something that bores her, I move on looking for connections between her interests and my experience where I might be able to help build a bridge to her future.

While not everyone is blessed enough to have every kind of video game system in their house (and multiple ones at that), just about everyone has a phone and there are a myriad of amazing games on phones.  Most computers, including Chromebooks have access to awesome games, but if you really want to have an incredible experience try GameTruck @ Home.  The contactless event will drop off a suitcase full of Sanitized Nintendo Switches at your house for a half day or a full day rental.  The rates are reasonable (check gametruck.com for pricing and availability in your area).  With GameTruck @ Home, you can get the whole family in on the fun and try out some amazing games like Mario Kart, Fortnite, RocketLeague, or Smash Bro’s Ultimate. 

Regardless of how you do it, I can’t encourage you enough to make the time to sit down and reconnect with your child using video games.  In no other domain of human activity do adults completely abandon kids like video games.  I believe we can, and should make the effort, to do better.  Your kids will want you there, and they will appreciate more than you know that you made the effort to join them in, “their” world.  Plus, you just might get the chance to help turn that “waste of time,” into a bridge for their future.  Today more than 200 colleges and universities offer tuition assistance for Esports (competitive video gaming) and 47% of Esport competitors major in STEM degrees.

Who knew?

(well I did, which is why I’m sharing it with you!)

Seriously though, it is more than fun.  Building connections, especially in the family, has never been more important.