Two-thirds of Australians play videogames (and the number is growing), yet quite a few folks still regard playing videogames as a bit of a time-waster. As a parent and teacher, I shared some of these concerns but it didn’t take long for me to gain a different perspective.
Despite working as screen professional and educator my passion for the moving image didn’t stretch to videogames and I wasn’t particularly motivated to dig deep into game culture. All of this changed when I became ACMI’s Games in Education Coordinator and began running our annual Education in Games Summit and coordinating Game Lessons. Thanks to my front-row seat, I could see how effectively videogames boost learning – but I was a complete newbie. It was time to push beyond my comfort zone and start playing videogames with my family.
At first, I faced some videogame-related issues and anxieties shared by many parents and carers when incorporating games at home. These include a lack of technical confidence, unfamiliarity with videogames, potential disapproval from fellow parents and uncertainty about where to begin. But as my understanding of game-based learning grew at work, I became passionate about the advantages of using games not only for education but also for fun and engagement (what teachers sometimes call “the state of flow”).
Here’s how I broke through my own resistance to videogames.
Breaking down barriers
First, I had to get over my feeling that time spent playing videogames was unproductive and that too much gameplay in my home would have a negative impact on my young daughter. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment when I realised I was already playing board games, which I considered somehow different – more "highbrow" than videogames. I was also using app-based word games like Word Brain and Word Search on my phone, which I thought of as more wholesome and enriching.
We were already doing it!
Another lightbulb moment was realising I was already using videogames to extend my daughter’s learning through educational apps (games) such as Kodable, Flow Free, Hexagon Fit and Endless Alphabet. I had sorted these into two folders, Brain Food versus Junk Food, and she would get a set amount of time for each. To play Subway Surfers she had to learn something first. (Though, I now realise Subway Surfers can also be used for learning – think about gameplay, timing, visual and sound design.)
Getting into some "real" games
My daughter and I eased ourselves into this new world of videogames with some tried and true console games: Just Dance and Mario Kart series. These games are familiar and accessible, more like what I grew up with.
It was as if this broke the seal to a treasure chamber and, as someone who loves a great story, I began exploring beautiful and evocative games such as The Gardens Between and Gone Home.
Understanding the craft
I’ve found that looking under the bonnet to understand the how to of videogames – how they’re made and how they’re played – really enhances my interest. I’m enjoying watching game review and gamemaker videos. If you want to access reviews from informative and trustworthy websites, try IGN Entertainment, Common Sense Media and GottaBeMobile. Opportunities for learning more about game creation include ACMI’s Game Builder, the ACMI and RMIT Games Talks 2020 series, the Minecraft Education Edition lesson plan library, Gamefroot and Code Camp World.
One of the most rewarding elements of taking a genuine interest in videogames is that it also creates opportunities for some great conversations with the young people in your life.
It is a misconception that videogames are mostly played by teenagers, but they do often have the most interesting takes on games. With a little bit of knowledge and some respect for young peoples’ opinions and their expertise, you can dig deep and be witness to some perceptive analysis. Get the conversation started with our What makes a good game? online learning resource.
My tips for parents just starting to play games:
- Put some time in if you want to learn and get better – the young people in your household will find this hilarious so long as you remember to take turns!
- Have a go. There is a huge range of game styles, you can sample without having to become a master. And ask family members for advice
- Begin with free and browser-based games. You don't need to outlay a lot of money or acquire a lot of tech
- Use "Cheats". This is not a dirty word in the gaming world but rather an important how-to manual. And they can save you a lot of time
- Make it communal. This is a great chance to connect as a family
- Invite your children to lead and teach you. They don't read instructions but just dive in and aren't afraid to fail.
Entering new worlds
If you are still in doubt, read this beautiful account from a 75-year-old newbie entering the world of Red Dead Redemption 2.
Evil and goodness all around, no clear lines between. Arthur’s dream, a triumph against the winds and tides of the rest. And my triumph by the way, learning something new for which I had no experience or ability, awakened by the challenges and delight of this extraordinary creation. What a privilege to play.
– Kate Ficai, 21 August 2020