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How Video Games Helped My Kids Get Along
When my kids started playing video games, I was concerned about all the things that parents tend to worry about: Are they too violent? Will they contribute to a short attention span? Should my kids be spending that time playing outdoors?
But one unexpected consequence of gaming I discovered was that it provided a bonding opportunity for my son and daughter.
My son is three years older, so of course his sister looked up to him and lived for moments when he would choose to play with her. We didn't have an Xbox or PlayStation, so our kids played games individually on PC. She tended more toward strategy and simulation games, such as Rise of Nations and The Sims. He played those, too, but also shooter and adventure games that she didn't play on her own, either because they weren't age-appropriate or they just weren't her style.
But there were times when he would utter the glorious invitation, "Hey, you want to come watch me play — ?" -- filling in the blank with whatever cool title he had selected -- and she would pull up a chair next to his, and they could share the experience. Much to my surprise, some video games are as fun to watch as they are to play. It's different from being competitors, each with a controller in hand, trying to defeat each other. She was able to feel like a member of his team as he conquered each level or fought foes in the game. And sometimes she would control the action, and he'd watch and advise her on strategy.
I didn't know how significant these shared gaming moments had been for her until I put together a memory book for him as a high school graduation gift and asked each family member to contribute a recollection. My daughter wrote, "How could I ever forget the single activity that may have bonded us the most: video games? The time we spent together was priceless, you beasting on some fools in Prince of Persia, Star Wars Battlefront, Middle Earth, etc., and me sitting to your right with my knees curled up to my chest, tucking my head whenever the action got too intense."
Contemplating his going off to college, she ended her piece by imploring, "Please just promise me you'll come back every once in a while for a quick video game session."
Choosing the right games is crucial to making them something siblings can share. Here are some of our tried-and-true favorites.
MySims Kingdom, 8+ -- A kid-friendly spin on EA's popular Sims franchise. Instead of simulation of a Sim's adult life, MySims is a role-playing game where the goal is to build and repair structures for other Sims.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, 9+ -- Kids can design and manage the amusement park of their dreams in 3-D, with multiple camera views. Once they've finished designing a park, kids can ride or participate in any of the coasters and attractions from a first-person perspective.
Civilization V, 11+ --This game uses authentic historical elements -- famous leaders, nations, resources, military units -- to simulate non-historical empires. Players can, say, lead Gandhi's India through millennia of military rule or have Napoleon's France become an empire of diplomacy and science. Play necessitates the depiction of some violence, but it's presented from a high perspective and is quite mild.
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth, 12+ -- This battle game based on the Tolkien book and movie is about strategy more than anything else, with no blood and no close-ups.
Plants vs. Zombies, 10+ -- This PC game has a fair amount of mild fantasy violence, but it's done in a silly, campy manner because the game is about defending your home from zombies by planting plants to stop them. There's no blood.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, 13+ -- In this real-time strategy game, players battle rival factions to the death, with blood and limbs flying. But the violence is clearly within a sci-fi story that takes place in the future and on another planet (as opposed to shooting police in a U.S. city).