No one would think twice about the idea of playing a board game or card game as a family activity. However, games tend to get a bad reputation. They are often considered violent or mind-numbing by parents. While parents are a bit more open to games like Wii Sports or Brain Age, they are wary about other multi-player games like Halo or World of Warcraft. This is a perfectly healthy skepticism as the media loves to pick up stories about game addictions or game violence. The truth is that games don’t make children violent or addicted. That’s not to say that games can’t encourage a child with a predisposition to violence to become more violent or a child that has a void in their life to fill it with a game addiction. Game addictions are very real and dangerous, and I recommend checking out my other article if you suspect your child has an addiction. What I urge here is to look past the media hype. People play games for many different reasons and in many different ways. Games like Grand Theft Auto can be played in a violent manner by one child, but another child might use it to build and customize cars to drive around town. How your child plays a game and what they like about the game are crucial to understand. However, I’m getting off topic. How are games good social activities?
1. Collaborative gameplay forces people to communicate and apply teamwork to become victorious. For example, if you and your son are teaming up against your husband and daughter in a game of Civilization, you will need to have a strategy and communicate your moves. If all four family members are playing Tales of Vesperia, you will have to synchronize your movements to take down the big bosses, which requires communication. Your family can even start a band in Rock Band that takes serious teamwork to appease the crowd. Even competitive games consist of silly trash-talk.
2. Games create great bonding moments and enjoyable memories. Games can be very emotional and stirring experiences, just like a movie or book. Many games like BioShock or Deus Ex encourage the player to make very difficult decisions about their beliefs and philosophies. Other games, like Civilization, might just create great inside jokes and memories. “Hey mom, remember when we ransacked dad’s Aztec civilization with your Greek hoplites and my Ottoman janissaries and took his capital? We were awesome.”
3. Not all games are played sitting down, and they can inspire everyone to get up and move. The Nintendo Wii has led the way for motion-sensitive gameplay, followed by the Xbox Kinect and the Playstation Move. Wii Sports, Zumba Fitness, Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution encourage players to get off the couch and cooperate in a dance or compete in a boxing match. Much laughter is to be had when watching dad shake his booty or mom try to hit the high notes in Karaoke Revolution.
4. Games can create common ground between parents and children and are a way to meet halfway. Parents might want to play a fun board game, and kids might want to play an interactive game. Why not do both and play an interactive board game like Mario Party? It’s a great way to get involved in the technology that kids are immersed in and understand the game world that many kids are living in today. It’s also a great time to teach kids healthy gaming habits!
There are dozens of games out there that area ideal for families. For those curious parents (or kids) I have included a list below of games that I have referenced in this article. As always, feel free to comment, give more game suggestions or ask questions. Please remember I am not a psychologist or a professional and that this all based on personal experience and my research in game-based learning at the Center for Excellence in Education. Happy gaming!
1. Civilization (PC)
This is one of my absolute favorites as it is both educational and social. Civilization is a turn-based strategy game (that is, it is not in real time) where players play as one of the famous civilizations, such as Alexander of Greece, Napoleon of France, Catherine of Russia, and Gandhi of India. Every player (this can be played solo or online with other players) begins with a single settler and raises their small, humble city to a complex, large civilization using technology, culture, economics, and military units. The player must balance all four to have a competitive, stable, and protected civilization, but they may choose to focus on one. There are several ways to win the game, whether by winning the space race (technology), taking over all the other civilizations (military), filling out five “culture trees” to develop the Utopia project (culture) or winning the most votes in the United Nations (diplomacy).
2. Wii Sports (Wii)
Players can bowl, box, golf, and play baseball or tennis. All of the sports can be played against the computer or another player. Tennis can be played with doubles, allowing for four people to play, and bowling can be played with several as well. Other similar Wii games include Wii Party, Wii Sports Resort, and Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.
3. Mario Party (Wii)
This game is number 10 on the best-selling Wii games list and is a popular series. It is a competitive party game and functions as a sort of interactive board game. Four people can play at once, and players can navigate their characters on different amusing themed boards with the roll of a virtual dice. Players compete in fairly simple minigames to collect stars and win the game.
4. Dance Dance Revolution (Playstation, Wii, Xbox, Gamecube, Dreamcast, Nintendo 64)
In the game, arrows on the screen rise from the bottom up to the top of the screen. As they reach the top, the player must simultaneously hit the corresponding arrow with their foot on the gamepad (this game requires the purchase of the DDR gamepad). The arrows, therefore, lead the player in a dance with fun, upbeat songs. Points are awarded depending on how accurately the player hits the correct arrow in time with the screen. Players can play solo or with a friend either competitively or cooperatively.
5. Karaoke Revolution (Playstation, Wii, Xbox, Gamecube)
This is a pretty straightforward game. Basically, the player is given the words to a song in a karaoke fashion, and the player must accurately hit the correct pitch using the feedback from the game. The game is very animated with an enthusiastic crowd that gets more excited as the player reaches the correct pitch. The game has both solo and multiplayer modes.
6. Rock Band (Xbox, Playstation)
I will admit that Rock Band requires a bit of an investment. You will need the two guitar controllers, the drums, and the microphone. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can look into Guitar Hero which only features the guitar controllers. However, Rock Band is an extremely fun game, and players naturally are drawn to one of the “instruments.” Each player must follow the colored “notes” on the screen and match them with the instrument in sync. Each player has their own set of notes and when they are all played together, it will play a song. If a player is doing poorly, the song will sound very off and the crowd will start to boo; therefore, teamwork is imperative. It’s pretty fun to watch the crowd roar while dad is shredding the guitar and mom is rocking out on the drums in perfect harmony.
7. Tales of Vesperia (Xbox)
This is one of those “sitting down” kind of games. Parents may feel very out of their element with this type of game because it is a role-playing game, but I assure you I have had tons of fun playing this as a social game. Tales of Vesperia is a very cute Japanese role-playing game centered on Yuri, who is attempting to recover a “blastia” core for his city (in this fantasy world, ‘blastia’ is a technology that civilizations depend on to provide resources, such as water, and protection). The game begins as a two player game but eventually works up to four players as Yuri meets new characters. It is a very child-friendly storyline and not gruesome. For parents wary of manipulating a console controller, I assure you this was one of my first console games and I was extremely awkward. You will get the hang of it.
8. Kingdom Hearts (Playstation)
I honestly have not played much of Kingdom Hearts, but I have tons of friends (and couples) who swear by this game so I thought I would include it. It’s also a nice alternative to Tales of Vesperia if you have a Playstation instead of an Xbox. This is a very popular multi-player series and is a bit similar in style to Tales of Vesperia. It’s fun for kids because it features many Disney and Square Enix characters. Players will meet Donald Duck and Goofy and battle Disney villains like Maleficient from Sleeping Beauty.