Bonding over video games

We’ve been using video games to bond with our kids for a while now. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

It always feels better to me when our kids are doing screens in a social way, rather than an isolated way. With the ongoing shutdown – we’re in Ottawa, a virus hot spot – we’re still having lots of evenings where our three teens sit next to each other on the couch with their faces in their own devices and headphones on. They may as well be in separate universes.

Now is not a great time for our kids to be isolated; they’re already missing out on a lot of their usual social contact. So we’ve been encouraging them to use technology not just to endlessly consume memes, but to join their pretty lame parents in a group game, their choice.

What I like about playing video games with the kids is that it meets them on their own turf. With all of us being stuck in the house together all day long, our interactions with them can sometimes feel like constant nagging; I’m pretty sure at this point they’re never going to learn how to load the dishwasher properly, but I keep trying. Even our attempts at family fun – like when we try to draw them into a board game or to go for a walk – can feel like we are dragging them off the couch and forcing them to get dressed like draconian overlords.

It’s nice to ask them to join us for an activity and have them actually feel excited about it. Plus, we now have a common language to talk to them about something they love; we can share stories about the game and ask them meaningful questions that often draw them out and make them actually chatty. And as a bonus for them, playing with Newbie Mom and Dad is pretty hilarious as we struggle to figure out how to work the controls (“Mom! Stop walking into the wall! TURN AROUND!”).

At the moment, the big winner is Among Us, a little online app where players are trying to repair their spaceship while one player secretly sabotages them or even kills a good guy or two. It can lead to a lot of squealing and a lot of acting outraged and a lot of excited discussion of what happened when a game is over. It’s free too; we recommend having a Discord channel open so everyone can play and also talk strategy at the same time, as using the game’s chat feature to communicate is too cumbersome.

We’ve also had a lot of fun playing Jackbox with our kids. These are online versions of silly parlour games, where players might be challenged to come up with funny definitions or answer weird trivia, or draw silly pictures and add goofy captions. We manage to play this one remotely with relatives by combining the game with a Zoom call, and it’s a lot of fun for young teens up to adults.

When there are fewer of us around, we can still rock it old school by digging out our home video game systems. Rock Band continues to be popular as a family game, and we often will have an evening of Mario Party or Goldeneye on our (very) classic systems. We also play Clash of Clans as a family; it’s an online app that is more geared towards individual play, but each of us have a “village” in our family “clan” and when we go to war together, it’s a group event that results in lots of dinner table strategizing and chatter.

Don’t get me wrong – we do still try to pry them away screens from time to time. But seeing as how that’s where their hearts lie right now, we’ve tried to take advantage of their interests and create some common ground by playing along when we can. It’s really nice to feel like we understand what they are doing online and why it’s fun; and it’s nice when your kids send you a bunch of funny Instagram memes fearing the Among Us spacemen and you can all share the in-joke.

Do you play online games with your kids? Are you secretly a Fortnite or Animal Crossing afficionado? What do you love about your favourite family games?

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