High-tech parenting expert Scott Steinberg, a professional keynote speaker and technology analyst, has just launched new book series “The Modern Parent’s Guide,” covering all aspects of connected family life, and companion video show “Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids.” The following is excerpted from “The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games,” which is free to download at www.ParentsGuideBooks.com now.
Among today’s most exciting and cutting-edge forms of entertainment, video games are a great way to connect with kids, and make lasting memories, while experiencing a positive activity that the whole family can enjoy. The best way to begin: Start planning your own family game night.
“Playing video games with your kids makes them see you as a person, not just a parent,” says Chasity Hicks, an Oklahoma mother of three. Her household’s gaming habits offer a great example of the many types of family-friendly games available today for different age ranges. She and her husband play NBA basketball simulations with their 14 year-old son; dancing game Dance Central and motion-powered outing Kinect Sports with their 11 year-old daughter; and virtual pet simulator Kinectimals with their 6 year-old. “We still get all the benefits of spending time together and having a great time while doing it.”She also likes that games can be educational, help with hand-eye coordination, and provide a physical workout.
Don’t be afraid to look silly in front of your children either, says Mary Heston of online site Wired Moms, a mother of four kids ranging from 13-21 years of age. “Dancing games are really fun for the entire family, and definitely provide lots of laughs for the kids when Mom and Dad get up there to shake their groove thing.” Heston’s family plays games on nearly every console available, and even participates in a family fitness challenge using active, exercise-oriented “exergame” Wii Fit.
The key for families is obviously finding the right kind of games to play together. “I know a lot of parents who don’t let their children play any type of video games, but I think that just like a lot of other things, it can be a good thing if monitored and limited,” says Hicks.
“As parents, it is important for us to find things in common with our kids and build those connections,” agrees Heston. “Playing video games together is a great equalizer.”
That said, those looking for a little Friday evening fun can forget Monopoly, Scrabble, chess, checkers and Old Maid – at least, the versions that don’t run on an Xbox 360 or iPad. Easier to enjoy, and clean up after, today’s family game nights belong to video games. Following are some tips that can help get you started building your own.
- Console – Although handhelds like the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Portable/Vita support wireless networking, they’re best reserved for killing time while software loads. Instead, stick with set-top systems when planning a family game night. The Nintendo Wii and backward compatible Wii U (which will run original Wii system software when in ships in 2012) have the greatest selection of family-friendly offerings to date, but consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 also sport a healthy range of choices that everyone can enjoy. Motion control accessories including Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move further offer compelling family play opportunities that can be cooperative or competitive, depending on your preference.
- Controllers – It never hurts to have a few extra gamepads lying around – preferably one for each player, plus a couple of back-ups. Make sure you look carefully at each before buying, however. Many sport added features like time-speed, slow-motion, or rapid-fire functions that can give users an unfair advantage. And don’t forget to have a good supply of batteries or chargers on-hand as well.
- Snacks – Cheese. Crackers. Alright… even carrots, celery and juice. Just have something nearby to nibble; you’re sure to work up an appetite jabbing wildly away on the controller or hopping around the room while hooting and hollering at the screen – and each other. Rather than junk food though, we always advise serving up a healthy range of snacks. In a pinch, a range of diet, non-fat or low-fat alternatives can also help shave pointless calories.
- Pen and Paper – For keeping track of scores. For many, gaming is all about competition – the longer you play, the more you’re rewarded with points, victories, collectible items and so forth. Keep a running tally, so you can see how everyone stacks up. Even if you’re all working together, chances are there will be something worth keeping track of, even if it’s just the number of times Dad accidentally trips over the dog.
PICKING THE RIGHT GAMES
First, ask yourself what’s appropriate: Are titles featuring cartoon violence, toy weapons or simulated combat kosher? Then think about what type of games make sense: Collections of frantic, bite-sized mini-games; teeth-gnashing head-to-head puzzlers; fist-pumping sports simulations; or grand-scale strategic engagements? Afterwards, you’ll also want to consider which control schemes you prefer, i.e. titles played on traditional gamepads, or motion controlled amusements that require you to get up and moving. Once you’ve picked the evening’s contenders, and set some limits, here are a few genres that make great choices for group play to consider:
- ACTION/ARCADE – Butt-bounce your way through titles together via cooperative play options. Alternately, go head-to-head against loved ones in fast-paced, whimsical affairs from pumpkin tosses to turkey shoots.
- CARD/CLASSIC – Virtually all your favorite board and card games are available in electronic form. Better yet, these titles remain as playable and addictive now as they did decades ago when first invented.
- MUSIC, RHYTHM AND DANCING – Burn calories while strumming along or busting a groove to today’s top pop, rock and rap songs. Such offerings – which may require the use of plastic instruments or dance mat controllers – let you literally jam to radio’s greatest hits, or shake a leg along with the beat. Many popular music and dance games offer a great mix of competitive options and cooperative routines, and some even allow for up to 20 players to play at once.
- PARTY – Crazy, competitive, and whimsical experiences specifically designed for the enjoyment of large gatherings are common fixtures at family gatherings. These titles typically offer a collection of different mini-games, and require family members to perform many different quick, hilarious activities in order to score points.
- PUZZLE – Test your brainpower and reflexes against one or more opponents; the quicker you form set shapes or clear screens of blocks, the harder rivals must work to catch up.
- RACING – Quench your need for speed zipping along fantasy or real-world courses at maximum velocity. Most of today’s racing options allow up to four players to compete simultaneously on one screen (still more can play online), and many even provide the use of zany weapons (turtle shells, bombs, banana peels) as well.
- SPORTS – Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, wrestling… If you can name it, there’s a virtual rendition. Fans will find all sorts of zany, arcade-style spoofs up for grabs in addition to pro-level simulations.
Finally, a few important guidelines worth keeping in mind for any family game night:
- Good sportsmanship pays. Gaming isn’t about sour grapes. After all, everyone’s ultimately a winner.
- Play nicely together. Set up a system so everyone takes turns, and gets to experience titles for an equal amount of time.
- Praise kids’ performance. Win or lose, any time they give it their all, it’s a job well done.
- Encourage teamwork. Join forces to surmount obstacles or shut down opponents.
- Avoid trash talk. If nothing else, it’ll keep kids from sassing you after kicking your sorry butt in a rematch.