The next time someone judges you or your kids for playing video games, don’t stress. Over the last year or two, most of us have upped the game time and this applies to our kids too. But this is not always a bad thing. In fact, video games are one of the easiest targets for critics to absolutely dump on parents. Now, I’m not saying video games are a necessity nor am I saying you should play them all the time without discipline (and that goes double for your kids). However, I am saying video games have a place in our society. It is totally fair for educated parents to be the judge of how much game time each child should have. All parents/carers (and educators) should be aware of the benefits of gaming, and not just the convenient vilification.
Gaming During a Pandemic
For the last two years, many of us have experienced varying levels of impact from that stupid virus. Some of us have been working from home more often, some have lost jobs, some have been managing ‘lockdown learning’, with the kids at home all the time. There have been ups and downs. There is no way I would ever claim ‘we are all in this together’ because we most certainly have not been. But some of us are lucky enough to have access to video games and online gaming to keep us both mentally active and socially active, albeit online.
Forced lockdowns were created to restrict movement and help reduce the contagious nature of the virus. With so many of us experiencing this for the first time, it is of no surprise to see a growing interest in ways to entertain and socialize; preferably at the same time. Gaming has been a natural choice, especially considering the ease of connectivity with others. We’ve been saying this for years. Now, others are seeing it too.
G2A.com, one of the world’s largest online marketplace for gamers, reportedly saw an increase of 200% in the number of people aged over 60 searching for games on their platform in 2020. Twitch saw an 83% increase in viewership when the pandemic hit. Gaming consoles like the Switch could not restock fast enough, especially with the popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game specifically designed to encourage you to socialize in a safe space online.
Parenting with Video Games
Gaming has also been a big deal for families. Recently the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) joined with researchers at Bond University to study Australian gamers during COVID-19 Pandemic, particularly during Lockdowns. Digital Australia 2022 (DA22) is the ninth of a series of studies into Australian Gaming Behaviour, however, this year it took extra consideration into the effects of lockdown and the gaming relationship between parents and children.
For example, 74% of those surveyed said video games could help continue social connections and maintain relationships with friends and family. 49% of parents play online games with their children, a six per cent increase from DA20. To read more about DA22, visit the IGEA Website here.
It’s the relationship between parents and children (and gaming) that features a lot in the discussion with GeekMoms (and GeekDads/Carers). It is one of the most common questions asked on many parenting forums over the last year; from gameschooling to lockdown learning support. And while the research here was based in Australia, we have seen similar comments/opinions all around the world. Definitely worthy of a chat with Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University, who has run the Digital Australia series of research for 16-years. This is a man who has seen a lot of growth and development in the gaming industry.
“Video games were not just a vital source of entertainment during the pandemic but also a means for connection, communication, and social interaction between friends and family, as well as education and comfort for children.” – Professor Brand.
EG Mum: Looking at the DA22, it appears parental involvement with kids playing video games has increased over the past years. What do you think is the most probable reason? Is it just the pandemic lockdowns and home-learning or something else?
Professor Jeffrey Brand (JB): We’ve shown for years that parents play games with their children. But we’ve been surprised how parents are seeing games now. Over the years, we’ve seen that parents who played games when they were younger enjoy sharing their interests with their children. Now, there are so many opportunities to play and so many different genres and devices for playing, we’re now seeing as many working-age adults play video games as children under the age of 18; so many parents who didn’t play when they were young are now playing. Naturally, children help parents discover so many things they themselves haven’t tried. The pandemic has forced parents and children to spend more time under the same roof for days on end. This has opened the door to more connections between parents and their children. Many parents who responded to our survey said things like, “I didn’t think I would enjoy it but I do”, and “games have given me more opportunity to connect with my children during the pandemic.” For parents of younger children, I think the pandemic has been especially difficult. Being a full-time carer, teacher, cook, cleaner, schoolwork monitor, and online social coordinator has also pushed parents to find appropriate games that everyone at home enjoys. We have stories about the whole family playing together to help pass time and reduce stress when the pandemic has intruded.
Note from EG MUM: Can I say right here how amazing it feels to be seen in a research paper like this? During our own lockdown, the Evil Genius Family created our own Minecraft server, allowing a bit of extra game time as a family. It has been fantastic watching the kids learn new creative ideas and programming solutions, sharing with us and building together. I know of many families who have done the same thing and it has been one of the most positive highlights to help their family during the isolation of the pandemic.
EG Mum: Does the style of game influence parental involvement? Which genres are more likely to entice parental involvement
JB: We only have anecdotal evidence from parents’ stories when responding to our survey about the genres that parents enjoy playing with their children and these mostly fit my expectations. In our survey, participants told us about their own gameplay and that of others in their homes. The top three genres were Casual Games, Action Games, and Adventure Games. These genres have so many titles that are appropriate for all ages and are available on every platform from consoles to mobile phones. Parents are always time-poor, so casual games make sense. Action games are often easy to play in spurts and with a different number of players–when we were in lockdown, at least one of our boys had finished homework and had down-time. So, we mixed it up. Adventure games are great for doing things you can’t do in real-life, especially when you’re in lockdown. A lot of parents talked about games like Minecraft, of course, but also playing multiplayer action games on consoles.
EG Mum: Are video games included in the syllabus? Or is it dependent on teachers at each school? Personally, I have found it to be the latter but I was wondering if this is something discussed further in the research.
JB: When I looked at the Australian Curriculum a few years ago, I was surprised that it talked a lot about using technology for teaching. But I was also surprised by the fact that more wasn’t made of using mainstream games specifically. I know that most games used in schools as part of the curriculum have been adapted brilliantly by individual teachers. So, I think we are a few years away from more widespread and standardized use of AAA titles in the curriculum. But then again, look at all the education-specific games we have now, such as Mathletics and Literacy Planet. It’s a matter of time, especially following the pandemic, I think. A lot of teachers have had to get creative to hold students’ attention when they’ve been locked down at home. They’ve also had to find ways to help students learn outside of formal teleconferencing sessions. It will come.
EG Mum: Children’s mental health has been a hot topic during Lockdowns, and this research indicates many adults consider video games have the potential for living well. Do you know of any support groups or systems in place that use video games as another tool in the toolbox for health care?
JB: One of the coolest things we have found through this research is that most adults believe games can be used for wellbeing, health, and positive ageing. For everything from thinking skills and neuroplasticity, to fighting dementia and maintaining social connections, Australians think video games can play a positive role. We know some hospitals use games to minimize pain and to help patients recover more quickly because of a positive mindset. The Starlight foundation used games years ago to help children in hospitals and some aged care facilities have used consoles that have movement games on dance mats, exercise platforms, and motion sensors. Seniors and computing groups exist across Australia as well. I would love to see more research on the ground to document where and how games are used now and over time. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the space in this round of research to do that work.
For more on the topic of health and gaming, check out our earlier GeekMom article: Gaming is Good for Your Health: Self-medicating with Games.
EG Mum: What do you consider the key finding for parents to take from this research?
JB: I’m a parent myself and I think the key finding from DA22 for parents is that video games create power opportunities for connection, particularly when the going gets tough, such as in the pandemic. Video games are an amazing medium. There are many genres, many ways to access them, including phones, tablets, computers, consoles, and so on. I remember reading to my kids. I also remember playing video games with them and watching TV with them. Doing things together takes time, but those together times pay you back years later. When children are excited about anything, they want to tell you all about it. Hearing what they say about video games they are interested in (like the games their friends are talking about) is a way to have your ear to the ground and guide their choices. Without their Moms (and Dads), who are our children? Somebody else’s! So play together when you can. It’s not always possible. But when it is possible to play together, the ability to connect with our children through games is an epic win.
Hot damn, folks! That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Any opportunity you have to connect with your kids is usually a good thing. Video games are like any other medium of entertainment, and to some extent education. It has always been so easy to make video games the ‘bad guys’, just like D&D in the 1980s and Rock’n’Roll in the 1950s. Don’t waste your time arguing with those who aren’t interested to learn more. Instead, find a way to use video games to connect with your kids. Like Professor Brand says, any opportunity to connect with our children is an epic win.
Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Brand for taking the time to talk with GeekMom. Thanks to IGEA and Bond University for sharing their research. If you are interested in reading the entire research report, you can find DA22 Report here. GeekMom and Evil Genius Mum were not involved in the research and this article is not sponsored in any way. Now get gaming!