Gaming with my Daughter is a Good Thing
When my daughter was a bit younger, my wife and I tried handing her our Nintendo controllers while playing the original Super Mario Bros with Nintendo Switch Online service.
It was more for the humor of it, and to see what happened. She hit that first Goomba, and lost interest pretty quickly. It was cute though.
Last October, having run out of ideas while living the quarantine life, I splurged and bought an Xbox One. With the Game Pass feature from Microsoft, I wouldn’t have to buy multiple $60 games, and could try games out before deciding if I wanted to keep playing.
For those who haven’t used it, you basically pay $15/month to choose from 100+ titles. If you download one and it’s a dud, uninstall and pick another. Netflix style gaming.
My wife was on board because our favorite game to play as a couple, “Halo”, was available on the pass. Actually, All of the Halo series of games were available.
So, we began a nightly routine of playing a level or two. It was a nice bonding experience that reminded us of the first years of our marriage when we had done a similar play through.
Our daughter, nearly 4 at the time, wandered in one day, and observed us playing. Rather than panic, we let her watch for a few minutes. We clarified who the “bad guys” were. She learned some of the characters, and would yell out things like, “mama, don’t worry I’ll protect you from the sword guy!”
A game that was well beyond her age had caught her attention. I resolved to try to find a more toddler friendly game on the Xbox to distract her from wanting to watch our Halo sessions.
I stumbled into one called “Viva Piñata”
The object was basically to create a garden, plant various types of seeds, and raise piñata animals. “The Garden Game”, as it has come to be known by her, captured my daughter’s heart. As an animal lover, she enjoyed the idea of a garden full of piñata animals who interacted. She would excitedly tell my wife which new animals had joined our garden that day, and which we still needed to find.
A new bedtime routine developed in which we would sit together as I played the game and showed her some of the basic controls. Within a few weeks, I could hand her the controller, and let her wander around, buying items and interacting with menus, even though she couldn’t read them. I realized she was beginning to memorize icons and patterns to remember how to do things. She was learning.
Parents out there may be condemning me now for encouraging gaming with my four year old, but our garden game time became the highlight of our day. I work full time from home, so I’m always around, but this gave us a special thing of our own.
I’ve loved video games since receiving my first NES as a child. But, there was always a stigma that came with investing time in games. Many people still consider them a waste of time, or a mindless activity.
I’m realizing that it’s not mindless at all. My daughter is engaged in the story, and even learning memorization, hand/eye coordination, and other skills typically encouraged through other more “acceptable”activities.
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to teach her everything there is to know from a game. But, bonding over a mutual interest, and seeing her learn as she has fun does not seem a bad thing to me.
Because she did well with Viva Piñata (the garden game), I figured I’d experiment with some classic Nintendo exposure. After all, I grew up on Mario.
We purchased Super Mario 3D World a couple months ago. She can move around, and do all of the basic controls, though, she prefers putting her character in a floating bubble to avoid engaging the bad guys. Because that game can have up to 4 players simultaneously, my wife has joined us on occasion. Three player simultaneous family gaming is a fun time for all of us.
I will add a note of caution to this tale. Kids do tend to latch on to some activities the expense of other activities. We have had times where we limited, or took away, the option to play for some time, to help encourage her to still play with her physical toys or go outside. This way she doesn’t get overly obsessed with one activity like gaming, which does have a tendency to pull us in more easily than other activities.
I’ve also started reading with her more to help counteract the game time. Our new night routine is to read a few books, including a personal favorite, Rhyme Bible Storybook, which uses rhymes with Bible stories in a kid friendly manner. We enjoy the “Pig the Pug” series of books now too, since we have a pug of our own.
I recently let her watch me play Pokémon Shield. The Pokémon look a bit like animals, and she likes to learn their names. She’s familiar enough with menus now as well that she can handle a Pokémon battle with some guidance. Since each word in a battle has a picture, I have her remember which picture she uses for which action, and try to enforce the word it’s tied to as well. So, if she needs to swap out a Pokémon, she knows it’s the second option down with the green Pokémon ball icon.
Mostly, she likes the camping part of the game. She has just as much fun throwing balls to my Pokémon that look like dogs, as she does trying to catch or battle a new type.
One of her favorite things about Viva Piñata has also carried over into our Pokémon sessions. The naming of characters.
If anyone sees my Pokémon lineup after she’s done with it, names like “Heart” and “hyfjskaij6” (if I let her type it herself) have become the norm. Or, if it’s a Pokémon that looks like a puppy, the name “Puppy” is likely to be her choice. I let her choose the letters as I tell her which to select if we’re spelling a real word for a name. I’m sure it’s not the same as actually learning to read, but it certainly can’t hurt (and may even help her with typing and letter position on keyboards eventually).
Our bonding over games was not a parenting plan I put together, but I don’t want to discourage something which brings us both joy and time together. We talk strategies for which Piñata animals we need to find, and laugh when our game animals do something cute.
I think games like Viva Piñata, and others like it could be a valuable tool for children as they grow up in a more digitized age. Sure, it won’t fully replace a good old fashioned book or school curriculum. But, it’s time spent in one another’s company, having fun and laughing as we try to catch an elusive Galagoogoo for our garden.