Common Sense MediaBy Rachael Ward, Common Sense Media intern
Growing up, I remember watching my older brother play Super Mario and Legend of Zelda. It was before I got the courage to pick up a controller myself; I used to think I didn't have enough skill to play -- at least not as much as my brother, who was good at everything.
Yet through practice and determination, I learned the ins and out of many tough games. And I learned that I loved the games not just for the action, but for their storylines. The problem was, whenever I wanted to talk to my parents about these stories, it was really hard to get them to take me seriously.
To my parents, games like Pong and Super Mario Brothers were just entertainment. In fact, they thought most games had no real value and were just an escape from reality. They thought I needed to learn to face "real life." In a sense, they were right. Games absolutely provided an escape from my life, which could be painful at times. (More on that later.)
The stories of clever characters who saved the day, against all odds, racing against the clock, made me feel like I could push through the obstacles in my life, too. Games gave me courage. And games were also windows into the lives and stories of others. They showed futuristic plots that I couldn't have dreamt of. They showed friends who stuck up for one another. They were like the very best books I was reading -- exciting, colorful, hopeful.
Thirteen years and plenty of tough discussions later, my parents have come around to a great degree. I think they better understand my attraction to games and their benefits. But helping my parents understand my passion was a long road.
Age 9, 1998
Dumb older brothers. I watched Mike playing his favorite game again today. It's frustrating how he won't let me play even though the PlayStation belongs to both of us. Mom and Dad have told me I shouldn't watch him play since it can give me bad dreams. But I can't seem to stop. It's like the action movies we watch on the weekends. There are so many twists and turns, and I just have to know what's going to happen next. And who's gonna help Mike if he gets stuck? I know tricks for winning that he hasn't even thought about! And I want to make sure that Snake succeeds and stops the bad guy. I know killing is wrong, but he's doing it to protect people. That's good, isn't it? I hope Mom and Dad let me keep watching -- even if they won't let me play.
Age 15, 2004
School has been rough again. It's hard going to a school where you barely know anybody. The kids on the school bus keep teasing me. I'm not sure how to tell Mom and Dad, so I'll keep it to myself for now. At least I finished all my homework at school. Now I'll get to play more of Hack//G.U. before dinner. The gameplay isn't anything special, but that's not really why I'm playing. I can relate a lot to the characters. They're going through a hard time like I am, and I like them a lot more than the guys who pick on me at school.
It's like a movie and a book combined into one, but it takes a lot more than just reading to get to the end. I wonder if Mom and Dad would like something like this? I mean, they let me buy it, but they never watch me play or ask me about it. So I guess they just don't care. I wanted to try and talk to them about it today, but they were either way too busy or just didn't get what I was saying. Would they even understand where I'm coming from?
I don't know why, but when I sit down, controller in my hands, I feel like I can be myself. It feels freeing not having to worry about wearing a constant mask to protect myself like I do at school. Can I ever make real friends like I see in the game? People who care about you no matter what? It's hard to tell, since I get the feeling everyone at school is wearing their own masks to keep people from getting too close. A few of the girls seem nice to me. But if I tell them I like games, will they reject me? It's happened before. But I have to try. I'm not sure about a lot of things in my life right now, but I am sure about one thing. I'm tired of feeling alone.
Age 18, 2008
Just got back from Lizzie's graduation party. All of my friends were there, and it was one of the best pool parties I've ever been to. When I first started opening up to them all those years ago, I never thought it would lead to having so many more friends. The best part is that they appreciate me for who I am and what I love. They even come over to play video games with me. Since we're all fans of everything Disney, Kingdom Hearts has become a recent fix. Even though it's single player, everyone watches, talks, and has fun.
As for Mom and Dad, they're a bit more comfortable now that I'm making equal time for school, social life, and video games. I made the decision to play a song from Hack//G.U. to Mom when we were in the car. She had no idea it was video game music. I think maybe I should keep playing her more of my game soundtracks and see what she thinks. But Dad's been busier than ever. So it's been harder to talk to him at all about stuff like this. I do think he's a bit more comfortable since I've been playing games with friends. Maybe if I find out what he likes in a game, he'll watch me play. I'll have to wait for when he has free time and give it a try.
Age 22, 2012
What a long road it's been. It's taken years to learn how to talk to anyone about games -- especially Mom and Dad. All we needed was some common ground. Dad was a bit hesitant at first, but you have no idea how happy I am that he enjoys playing with me. I knew a sci-fi fan like him would enjoy it. Mom has endured my constant rants on bad games and even used the music from Kingdom Hearts in her yoga class. I love when they ask me questions about them. Dad's been asking me about the writing and development that goes into a game and encourages me to apply to work for a game company to write scripts. I'm not sure I have all the education it takes yet, but it would certainly be a dream come true.
If your kids love games and it's hard to understand why, try this advice to help find some common understanding:
Play the games you buy for your kids: The best way to understand your kids' games is to play them yourself. You might like the themes and messages. Some might be too violent for your taste. Either way, you'll make more informed decisions if you become more familiar with them.
Compare games with other media: Encourage kids to build a deeper understanding of games by making comparisons. Ask them whether there are similarities or differences to their favorite books, movies, and music. For instance, invite your kids to compare the plots of a game and movie with the same name. Ask them to compare and contrast sequels. Share your own views, too. It could be a discussion or debate.
Invite your kids to share: Encourage your kids to share their gaming experiences with you. Even if you still don't quite get it, your kids may very well enjoy explaining what means so much to them. For example, if your kid is playing Pokemon, ask them what Pokemon they use for their team and what training routine they're using. Even ask questions about games that concern you. It's important to talk about these sensitive topics, because it leads to more shared understanding.
Here's a list of great Starter Games for Parents to Play with Kids.
Rachael Ward was a summer editorial intern for Common Sense Media in 2012. Her passion for gaming continues to drive her to find fun and enriching media. Her favorite game of all time is Journey. Rachael holds a B.A. in English from Millersville University. She's currently pursuing a writing career in gaming.
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