When I think about my life, I feel like it can be separated into two specific periods of time, before having children and after having children. I suppose for most people, this would hold true as becoming a parent changes your life in such a fundamental way. However, the interests that I have always been passionate about remain the same, and now that my eldest child, Poppy, is old enough to begin to enjoy video games herself, we have never had as much fun together as we are having now.
We Love Screentime in This Household
Like many other parents, I have regularly tried to make sure that my children were not experiencing excessive amounts of screen time. It has often been challenging due to a range of factors that consist of but are not limited to, working from home, playing video games for work, and video calling being the only way for my children to stay in contact with my parents as we live on the opposite side of the world. Now that Poppy is older, her interest in playing video games has peaked. It has been difficult balancing all of the above, but I have to say that figuring it out has been worth it as I have enjoyed both playing with and playing adjacent to Poppy. Playing with her allows us to enjoy the game together, and playing adjacent allows me to observe her critical thinking skills as she encounters problems in games that she plays.
When I first gifted Poppy my old Nintendo Switch after upgrading to the Animal Crossing version, she had yet to enter Kindergarten, and as such, her reading ability was only beginning to develop. She would need my husband or I to read all text in the game – which could get quite tiring when you’re in the middle of something else. During this period, I became extremely grateful for games tailored to young children, which actually incorporated elements to allow non-readers to play the game independently, such as audibly instructing the player or visually displaying what button to press on the screen. Being able to play and complete games without constant aid really helped develop Poppy’s confidence which now brings us to where we are now, almost two years later.
After surviving the experience of letting Poppy play my copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and finding out that she not only destroyed my island but evicted Ruby from my life, I purchased Poppy her own copy of the game.
From there, we ended up visiting each other’s islands quite often. She would create numerous games for us to play, such as tag, hide and seek, acrobatics, and racing games. Despite these things serving no in-game purpose, I found myself enjoying and looking forward to each time we visited our tropical islands. Sitting side by side on the couch, we shared in laughter as, once again, Poppy hit me in the head with a bug net.
From there, we dipped our toes into numerous other titles, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Disney Illusion Island, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and various other party games. By this time, her reading ability had excelled, and she could play most games independently. We sat side-by-side as she discovered secrets in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, built a fantastic town in Minecraft, beat trainers in Pokemon Violet, and more.
Building Bonds Through Video Games
It has been an amazing experience watching her play video games. For one, she has no real sense of urgency. Time means nothing to her. She is happy to spend long stretches in video games, enjoying playing in a way that serves no purpose to the game’s progression. She knows that Zelda needs Links’ help, but she’s just as happy to spend the day harassing every chicken that she comes across. She also does not understand how to gear correctly; it’s mostly a fashion statement. Which I can respect, but it also means that she is often under-geared for specific situations and dies frequently.
However, it doesn’t bother her in the slightest. She just repeatedly tries over and over again until she is successful. Seeing how she played for enjoyment instead of any other reason was refreshing. She wasn’t doing it the supposed “correct” way; Poppy was doing it her way. Gaming should be fun, and somehow along the way, that changed for me. Maybe it was a slow change as I became busier with less free time. With only a few hours a day to myself, I feel like I need to be making progress.
But the benefits of sharing my love of video games with her aren’t solely for me. Our relationship has improved in ways I could only imagine through this extended time that we share. Sharing this experience with one another means that we naturally spend more time in close proximity. In game, this allows us the ability to collaborate to achieve tasks and then celebrate when we succeed. It has also taught me to be patient.
There will be times when my daughter takes what feels like an eternity to make progress. For example, repeated attempts to make a jump. Whilst initially frustrating, I have come to enjoy it as I can observe her willingness to continually attempt to solve a problem; I can see the cogs turn in her brain as she works out the solution to a puzzle. I am also there as she reads the text aloud, and I can help correct pronunciation and explain definitions of words that she has never encountered before.
Whilst those cognitive benefits are lovely, it’s the emotional benefits that have really been important to me. Spending extra time with my daughter has allowed us to bond over the successes and defeats in a game. This allows us to converse and relate said instances to real-life situations. These moments provide stress-free conversational topics that we can discuss whilst having fun. It helps further develop emotional regulation, as I am there if she gets upset and can help talk her through her emotions. It gives us time to discuss other topics – how she feels, how school is going, and what she needs.
Our lives can be pretty busy. So, taking this time to slow down and connect with one another has been priceless. Video games have also improved Poppy’s relationship with my husband, as they often spend time together in the evening after her younger siblings are asleep. Occasionally versing each other in Super Smash Bros., but most recently, Poppy has been watching and narrating my husband’s playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. I adore hearing her get excited as he defeats an enemy, finds some loot, or anything else of the sort. It is adorable to hear her frantically give him advice as to how she thinks he can beat an enemy, finish a shrine, or get through an area. I know that my husband enjoys this time tremendously as he often works long hours, and it is an opportunity to spend one-on-one time together. They are indeed two peas in a pod.
I am so glad that I can share my interests with my children. It provides another way to bond with my daughter, and I plan on maintaining this positive relationship in the hopes that when she gets older and encounters issues in her life, she still knows that I am her safe space to talk to. Whether she knocks on my door in the middle of the night to talk or it’s whilst we are in the middle of a gaming session. Or whether she continues to need help in-game, too, I will always be there for her.