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The hidden benefits of playing video games in lockdown

Journey

As many of us hunker down at home to avoid COVID-19, the amount of time we spend in front of screens has soared.

Children, for instance, are now far more likely to be using screens for schoolwork and video calls to family and friends than they were before lockdown started. Many of them will probably also be spending longer playing video games, and some parents may be worried about that.

However research has shown that the amount of time children spend in front of screens is less important than what they’re doing on them – and many games can offer very positive experiences for your child.

Video games create virtual spaces

Adult and child gaming together

Because it’s a fast-changing media, it’s easy to miss some of the benefits of time spent playing games, particularly for parents who don’t play video games themselves.

Something common to all video games, from Candy Crush to Fortnite, is that they create a virtual space that invites us to visit a world and behave differently to real life. We can don bulletproof armour to win a shoot out, but we can also find a tranquil underwater space to explore or maybe a virtual playground to reconnect with friends.

As you talk to children about what they do in the games they play, and maybe spend time playing together or watching them play, you can discover there is more going on than meets the eye.

Family playing video games together

These spaces, the characters they interact with, the missions and challenges they take on are the way that video games tell stories. As they play, your child discovers a narrative from what inhabitants talk about, how the world responds to them and what they can do to fix it.

As with any media, the contents of a video game are only good or bad in a particular context of consumption. Understanding this, and making video games part of family life, is a powerful way to create a healthy context in which to enjoy video games.

With this in mind here are a few of the often-unexpected benefits of playing video games in this way.

Connection

Overcooked 2

Even the most competitive online game is an opportunity for children to be in touch with school friends or a wider group of online acquaintances. Listen to a child play a game, even an exuberant shooting game like Fortnite, and you will hear them discuss all sorts of things with their friends.

A game such as Overcooked 2 is a great example of this, because you can play with people in the same room as well as those elsewhere. The idea is that you work together in a series of fantastical kitchens to create dishes for hungry diners. It’s a lot of fun and along the way, you’ll find you talk about all sorts of other things.

Find more games to connect online here

Advice to set-up online play safely

Education

Valiant Hearts

There’s a whole category of games that have been created solely to teach the player something. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but there’s also a lot of learning that happens in games not specifically designed for this purpose.

Valliant Hearts is an excellent example of a war game that teaches players about the realities of these scenarios in an unusual way. You play four different characters who help a young German soldier find his love in a story about survival, sacrifice and friendship. As you progress, you discover hidden items that reveal facts about the war.

Find more educational games here

Check PEGI ratings on more mature games

Calm and control

A Short Hike

Video games can offer a healthy and helpful escape from the real world, particularly at stressful times. In the game, the child can find a sense of control over things or attempt projects that in the real world they might not have the confidence for.

For example, A Short Hike is a game in which you explore a small island at your own pace. There’s no pressure to progress and in many ways, you can treat it like a walk in the country. But at the same time, this space invites you to explore and gain confidence as you discover a gentle narrative.

Find more calming games here

Be a good neighbour

Heave-Ho

Another positive aspect of video games is that players can be encouraged to help both computer-controlled characters and other humans. This is particularly useful at a time when it can be hard for children to find human connection or practical ways to help. Video games can provide a context where they can be generous to other players and make a difference that benefits others.

Your child might try a game such as Journey, in which you encounter other players and can lead them in the right direction by making wordless chirps. Or they might prefer the more playful experiences in Heave Ho, where you must hang on to each other to swing across wide gaps and complete levels.

Find more games about helping people here

Discussing ground rules for safe online play

Setting things up for positive video game experiences

While there are many benefits to be gained from video gaming, there are a few other things you can do to help your child enjoy positive experiences when playing.

You may want to consider setting parental controls, for instance. Whether your child is using a computer, tablet, smartphone or console, there will be settings that enable you to specify how they interact with other players – for instance only communicating with existing friends.

Keeping their gaming sessions in a shared family space can also be helpful – and for two reasons.

For starters, it’ll ensure you’re aware of what they’re doing and who they are talking to. But more positively, it means you can celebrate their successes and commiserate failures.

Playing together can be a great way to enjoy these benefits as a family, giving your child a healthy relationship with games that will stand them in good stead for their digital future.

For more details on parental controls. PEGI ratings and which games are good for your family visit AskAboutGames.com

Images: Andy Robertson

Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames.com and has recently written the book Taming Gaming for parents

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