Back in the 70’s (yes, I was a teenager in the 70’s!) my family came into possession of an Atari 64 Game system. I spent many hours in front of the TV trying to beat my brothers or friends at “Pong.” You remember “Pong?” The ball goes one way with a beep and then with a boop it goes back the other way. I found that great fun. At that time I had no idea what was in the future of computer gaming. For those of you who haven’t kept up with computer games these games have become extravagant compared to the games of the 70’s. Some are visual and storytelling masterpieces like “Mass Effect.” Some are just pure simplicity and fun such as “Mario.” Others are dark and violent like “Grand Theft Auto.” Others are down-right addictive such as “World of Warcraft.” While there are some games I would not allow in my home, with a family of eight children and six computers I have learned to take advantage of computer games to bolster my relationship with my children.
When my oldest children were very young they gathered around me when I fired up a computer game. They just watched as I played. The original “Alone in the Dark” scared us all. I can still hear my two oldest boys yelling, “Turn off the music! Turn off the music!” because it was so creepy. Eventually the “Kings Quest” series came out and my boys were old enough to take the controls. This series took them on adventures in imaginary lands with a strange, engaging cast of characters. They had to make decisions and solve puzzles. I’ve never been much of a puzzle solver and found myself just watching as the son on my lap solved the puzzles. I helped make the decisions. Together we had fun.
As we moved into the 90’s “Doom” came out. This game changed the gaming world and our lives. “Doom” was a network multiplayer game. You could actually see your game-mates in the virtual world of the game. When playing together we could play a deathmatch where we hunt each other down and shoot each other with shotguns, rocket launchers, or ye olde crowbar. Yes this sounds violent, but it was pretty much the same as playing army like I did when I was a kid. On the other hand we could play cooperatively also. We would meet in the virtual world and work together to destroy the mutant aliens that sought our destruction. We would cover one another or lead one who was low on health back to where we last saw a first aid kit (more health). We had hours of fun and still talk about the “days of doom” today.
My oldest son was quite captured by “Starcraft.” It not only has a fascinating single-player storyline, it has a huge competitive side to it. In Korea there are professional Starcraft players who make over $100,000 a year (no exaggeration) competing at Starcraft. My son would download the replays of these competitions and I would watch them with him while he explained the strategies and mistakes in the match. Now married and in college he no longer has time for Starcraft, but we will always have those enjoyable hours spent together excitedly watching and discussing those competitions.
My second son discovered the “Final Fantasy” series of games. This game takes a player on a long journey. The journey is so long that it takes a lot of commitment to finish. The commitment comes easy for most because the art is beautiful, the characters full and engaging, and the storyline enchanting. After playing Final Fantasy by himself he suggested playing it again as a family. Once or twice a week we would sit down as a family and enter that magical world. As new characters were introduced we were able to tag them with our family names. The names appeared on screen and the kids loved it. Playing an hour or two a week it took a few months to finish the adventure, but it is an experience we will never forget.
In a busy, fast-paced world like today any activity can come between a child and his parents including computer games. I have learned that by becoming sincerely involved in what my kids are interested in the activities actually bring us closer together. I haven’t actually played a computer game in years and yet by taking the time to ask questions, listen to their explanations, and even sit down and watch as they show me the games my relationship with my children grows and my life is enriched.