Hi everyone, I’m back! I haven’t written one of these for quite a while now, life has got in the way a bit recently.
Well, I say life, I mean gaming.
Well, I say gaming, I mean one particular game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I previously wrote in this blog about my love for the Zelda series in general and my anticipation for the latest title. I can now say that this game definitely lives up to the hype, and I have been playing it almost every free evening for the last three months or so (a lot of free daytimes too!). The sense of freedom and adventure, size and beauty of the game world and just pure fun of the gameplay is unparalleled. Another Nintendo instant classic!
One aspect of this game that I have particularly enjoyed is playing together with my wife and kids. The kids are now getting to an age where they are starting to be able to play this kind of game by themselves (the youngest is 5), and it is great to watch them having a lot of fun with this one. I know that a lot of parents are not gamers, but we really enjoy playing as a family and would recommend it to anyone, so I thought I would share a few of the things that we do when playing this kind of game with kids to ensure a great time is had by all. These are just things that we do, I am by no means saying that we are experts and know everything. Every family is different, and I am always open to suggestions from others!:
1. Be Inclusive
When playing games with more than one child, you need to appreciate that each one will have a different amount of desire to play a game, and especially with younger children, they may find it difficult to fully express that desire. What I mean by being inclusive in this context is to make sure everyone’s voice is given a chance to be heard, everyone is in agreement about the choice of game, and everyone’s expectations about what they want to get out of the gaming session is known and acknowledged. This can be quite difficult to achieve in practice, especially with younger children, but when it is achieved it significantly reduces the amount of meltdowns during and after the play session!
2. Be fair with rules/turns
Another thing to lay out before starting is the rules, especially the system of taking turns. Zelda, for example, is a single player game, but if reasonable rules are established, there is no reason it can’t be played by a whole family (we do it!). For this game, we normally play ten minutes each before passing the controller to the next person. We literally time this using a timer on one of our phones. This is a clear boundary that everyone can see and the children usually engage with it. Our daughter in particular loves taking control of the timer, and ensuring that it is paused for cut-scenes when she isn’t technically playing!
3. Set clear play session length boundaries
This could be contained as part of the rules set at the start of play. This also applies to a lot of parenting situations, but since console gaming is particularly engaging for a lot of children it is especially important in this case. Children need to learn that play time cannot be indefinite, things such as food time, bed time, or other planned activities also exist. Also too much screen time is just generally bad for anyone, children and adults alike.
It is important to let them now before they start playing how long this session will last. Since they generally forget things very quickly, this will also need to be reminded to them in the middle of the session, and definitely when there are only 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes left. As long as they know the boundaries all along, they generally accept the situation, at least they accept it a lot better that you just saying “Right, turn it off NOW” at the end and pulling the plug!
4. Ensure play is age appropriate
So, there are a lot of computer games in the world now, and they clearly aren’t all appropriate for children. The first step when choosing a game to play with kids is to check the age rating. This is normally clearly displayed on the front of the box. If you are going to let the kids play by themselves, don’t let them play a game too old for them!
After saying this, I am now going to sound hypocritical, since the age rating for Zelda: Breath of the Wild (at least in the UK) is 12, and my kids are all under 10. I did not take the decision to play this with the kids lightly. My wife and I played for several hours to evaluate the reasons the rating may have been given. We also know the kind of things our kids are sensitive to. Using this knowledge, we decided to let them play. Zelda is an open world game. There are a lot of different things to do, and a lot of ways to pass the story. The reason for the 12 rating in the game is the violence. The hero, Link has to fight off several monsters with a large array of weapons during the course of the game. Since we had played the game ourselves, we decided that this violence was not something that we wanted to expose the kids to too much, but there were several aspects of the game that they would enjoy, such as horse riding, puzzle solving, cooking, exploration. In this case they are allowed to play, but in a ‘low violence’ style, i.e. running away from inessential fights, and if there are enemies that need to be fought, such as end of level bosses, pass control to a parent (I myself have no problem carrying out this parenting service!). The other important thing is that they are closely supervised when they are playing, and if any seem overly distressed, we stop playing and address the issue.
5. Relax and have fun together!
If you follow the above guidelines, the only thing left to do is to relax and have a great shared experience with your family! This kind of activity for me is where you can experience beautiful moments, create beautiful memories, and just generally have beautiful fun! For us this fun spills over well past the actual time playing the game. We have several discussions about it, how we are going to play next time, what happened in the story, etc. The children demonstrate incredible creativity acting out their own imagined versions of the game, draw endless pictures of characters, real and invented, and everyone’s lives are just generally slightly more enriched because of it.
So, those are my tips. Let me know if there is anything you do when playing with your family, and happy gaming!