Ever since I was a little kid, I was into computers and video games. I’m a techie and a nerd. I’m proud of it 🙂 And the reason for that is MY dad; and I can’t thank him enough for sharing his passion for early computer technology with me back in the 1980s and 1990s. He’s the reason why I became a computer scientist and a software engineer; and why I love video games to this very day.
Today, I am a dad myself. My #1 top goal, each and every day, is to be the best dad I can be for my son Benni. Part of that, I believe, is sharing with him the things I’m interested in and that I am passionate about! Benni is turning three years old this summer, and I remember that, quite some time ago, I started to wonder if it would be okay for me to introduce my son to the world of video games and share with him what it is that I do there, why I am passionate about it, and what makes it so special for me; and what the best video games for kids and their dads would probably be. Games that are fun to play for adults, but won’t be overwhelming for your kids. And games that encourage parents not just to consume, but to talk about with their children!
In this blog post, I want to elaborate on
- why I think there is absolutely NOTHING bad about playing video games as a dad and
- how you as a dad can enjoy your passion.
Furthermore, I will explain
- why I think that it is not only okay but why I strongly believe that it is important that you do so!
- I will go into how you can (and should) play video games with your kids, even if they are just three years old,
- and what, I believe, are the 5 best games for kids and their dads to enjoy together
I know this blog post may trigger some discussion. That’s totally fine: I’m not saying that you have to agree with me. I just want to share my opinion and let you know what works for me. How I deal with video games and how I make this work in my family. If you disagree, then let’s have a real discussion in the comment section below!
But before we start, there is one question that I need to emphasize. One that I ask myself every single day; as a “reality check” if you will. To hold myself accountable (which is VERY important in everything you do as a dad, I believe)! And because I know other people think this way, too, I want to be able to have an answer ready if I get asked…
I’m a gamer! Does that make me a bad dad?
Let me make one thing crystal clear from the start: My son, my family and my friends always come first! Playing video games is just a hobby. I’m passionate about it, and there is a fine line between being very passionate about something and developing an unhealthy relationship to an activity. For me, that line was always, and will always be when I start putting videos games BEFORE social interaction and “real life responsibilities”.
As long as I can assure that I will always be there for my son, help him, have a good time with him and care for him, there is nothing wrong with having a time-consuming hobby I am passionate about. No matter what it is!
But is playing video games something a father can have time for?
Like with many of my hobbies and interests, there are episodes where I’m more into gaming, and then there are episodes where I’m less into it. That’s a good thing! It broadens my horizon and also tells me that I have a healthy relationship with gaming.
When my son was born, obviously, an episode of being less into video games started. It had to! I was a dad now! Better yet, I was a Stay At Home Dad. I was taking care of my son all day long, while I was still learning for my second college degree and building an online business on the side. There wasn’t much time for gaming. And I didn’t miss it.
But like I said before: The passion came back, and at some point, I asked myself: Can I enjoy my hobby (to a reasonable extent, obviously) while “still” being the best dad for my son he can imagine? While still being the “hero” he deserves?
The answer is yes! Like with any other hobby I want to make sure that a few things hold true:
- I will never put my hobby before my child, family or friends (I mentioned that before).
- Whenever possible, I want to share my hobby with my son. I want to share the fun, the creativity, but also the hard work that sometimes comes with it. The successes and fails! Teach him not to give up and keep trying, even if things don’t work on the first go around.
- My hobby may never harm my kid. If my hobby was riding the racing bike, I would not put my kid in the back seat and ride for a whole day, would I? I can do that when I’m practicing alone, but when I want to share my passion with my kid, a one- or two-hour ride would work just fine. What I’m trying to say with respect to games: Games like Doom, Wolfenstein or Mortal Kombat would most certainly not qualify as the right choice to share with a young child. As a responsible dad, I need to apply common sense, select the right content and improve my media competence (something I will talk about later) day in and day out.
If you don’t agree with me here, that’s fine. Because one thing is important…
Don’t let ANYONE judge you
Playing video games is just a hobby and EVERYONE should have one. Even caring moms and dads. Sometimes, I believe, they need that (I mean a hobby in general and some spare time for themselves) more than any other non-parenting person in the world.
Why would you as a dad, not have the right to do the things you are passionate about when you believe it is the right thing to do for you; and -that’s even more important here- for your child? As long as you can make sure that your hobby and your passion do NEVER EVER harm your kids, there is no reason to refrain from doing so.
And don’t let anyone judge you! It’s YOUR life and YOUR family. You know your child better than any other person in the world. And you, together with your partner, are THE only people in the world who should make this decision. Make sure to discuss that matter with each other, but don’t let others (friends, family members, other parents) judge you for who you are and for what you think works in your family.
But isn’t a 3-year old too young?
I totally understand that question. I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist. I can only apply common sense here and give you my opinion as a dad, who, again, believes to know what works well for his family.
I believe that there is a fine line here. But that isn’t different compared with other activities in pretty much anyone’s life: If you overdo something, it is almost always bad for you and the people surrounding you! Obviously, that is true for video games as well!
Have you ever seen stressed out parents who would “park” their kids in front of the TV screen just to get a couple of minutes off? Is that okay? Maybe, I don’t want to judge. Others do that for HOURS!
But isn’t it almost always better to share something with your children, rather than making sure they are entertained while you can do something else? You can share so much valuable time with your kids playing with them: Soccer, Lego, puzzles and board games. Reading stories, painting together or playing with modeling clay!
I have collected a lot of good examples of toys and activities in this blog (and will continue to do so). Make sure to do these things. But when you’re done, why not spend 30 minutes of quality time every few days with your kid in front of a TV screen – TOGETHER! Exploring virtual worlds! Sharing the stories!
Why you actually SHOULD play video games with your kids
With that being said I would argue that you, as a dad in today’s era actually SHOULD play games with your kids, even if they are just three years old.
We are living in a world of constant change. Our kids will sooner or later have to get in touch with computers, tablets, the internet and all sorts of technology. There is no way around it. As responsible moms and dads, I believe, it is our highest obligation to prepare our kids for their life, their future and the world they are going to live in as self-determined individuals as best as we can.
If you manage to develop a mindset of embracing that future and allowing your child to develop a healthy relationship with technology, then, I believe, your kids will grow up in an ideal environment and face the future with self-confidence. I strongly believe that playing with your kids (whether it is with physical toys or video games) the best way to teach them about the world they are living in today and the challenges they will be facing in the future.
And finally, playing video games will also help YOU with raising your kid in the long term. Playing video games will help you to build some real-world media competence. While this skill is already so important in today’s world it will get even more important in tomorrow’s. And your kid WILL sooner or later exceed your media competence; that is a normal thing, as media is so omnipresent today. While I have the edge today, my son will have the edge tomorrow! My goal is to keep up with Benni as long as I can. And, again, what better way is there than to educate me through play?
How to play together with your child
This is actually quite simple, and I don’t want to overcomplicate this. When I play with Benni on the PC, he usually sits on my lap, while I play. We would then talk a lot! He tells me what he sees and what he would like to do; and I try to make it possible. Sometimes it works; then we enjoy our success. Sometimes it doesn’t and I will explain to him what went wrong.
Sometimes we play on the Nintendo Switch (which I believe is the ideal Father-Son-console, but I’ll talk about this in a separate blog post) or the iPad. Here is depends on the situation: Usually, we would lie on the bed or on the couch and spend some time together.
We talk a lot. And I believe that is key!
We even did a few Twitch livestreams together (which you can find an example of below, but be warned: It’s all German!). It’s all about the fun, communication, learning and, as for me as a dad, paying close attention to how my son reacts to what we are playing.
What makes a game a good choice for dads to play with their kids
There are many video games out there, especially on mobile (like your smartphone or tablet) that are designed especially for kids. I will publish a blog post about my recommendations on that topic as well quite soon. The issue with these apps with respect to the topic of this blog post is obvious: They are designed SPECIFICALLY FOR KIDS! In return, that often means that they can be a bit boring, or at least less exciting and definitely less challenging for adults.
So the first thing that qualifies a game as a good game you can play together as father/mother and child is that it is entertaining for both of you! It should be a good fit for BOTH of you: It must not be overwhelming for your kid, but on the other hand, it should not be boring for you! That’s pretty much the quality criteria that I apply to all the toys I review on this blog. And it should apply to video games as well!
Next, a good, kid-compatible game should in some way reflect your child’s everyday reality. Something that he or she already knows. It should not be too abstract but have something that your kid can recognize. That can be a game element (like building something with blocks, which may remind them of Lego; or there are cars in the game, which will remind them of their real-world toy cars or the like).
Then there is one thing that people always connect with video games, especially if they’re not gamers themselves: Violence! Obviously, a game that you want to enjoy with your kid should not feature violence. Or, if it does, it should be a very abstract form. I’m not saying that a game that you want to share with your kids should not have any conflicts! Conflicts happen all the time, and they are already part of your kids’ life (which resonates with what I mentioned above). But there are so many games that feature very abstract conflicts and challenges that even young kids can understand and digest. So a good game to play together should not avoid conflicts, but it should avoid violence.
Finally, a good game that you can play together with your three year old should encourage discussion, creativity and storytelling. Like a bedtime story you read to your child, a good game should be the foundation for further adventures in your and your kid’s (and preferably your “common”) fantasy.
Therefore a good game to enjoy together should not be too challenging for you to play. If the game captures all your attention, then it is probably not the best choice, as your top priority when playing video games with your kid should always be on your child; not the video game, its mechanics and the tech stuff connected to it.
The 5 best games to enjoy together with your kids
With that being said, I want to give you my top 5 list of games that I suggest to try playing together with your child. I will also add links to each so you can purchase them right away if you want to give it a try!
#5 The Sims 4
Playing games from The Sims series is a great choice to start with. It’s like playing with dolls but in the virtual world. The Sims has a lot of “emerging storytelling”, i.e. stories that develop while you play. So there is a lot to talk about and a lot to laugh about as well. The game creates situations that your kid is familiar with, as it simulates a household with family members that all have their own character. You can make decisions together with your child and no matter how old your kid is, it will be digestible for them at different levels.
Just know that EA has turned The Sims series into a real cash cow: Besides the main game, the company offers many, many add-ons for the game that you can buy for your hard-earned money. Some consider that a good thing, others don’t like this kind of monetization. However, the base game by itself is already very good and will entertain you and your entire family for a long time.
Give it a shot. There are several versions of the game available for all major video game systems: Consoles, PC and mobile alike.
#4 Mario Kart
Mario Kart is one of these all-time classics. It’s a racing game! Games with cars always work. Plus, it has that cartoonish look that kids love. It’s quite challenging for the player though, so it should keep you, the parent, entertained as well without eating up all your entire attention span.
There are many, many funny situations you want to talk about. The game features very cartoonish characters that make communication easy, even if you as a mom or dad have never heard of Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach (which I doubt 🙂 ). The graphical style speaks a very clear language and violence (if you want to call it that) is very, very abstract.
If your kid is already old enough to hold a gamepad and understand what the buttons mean, you can even play together on one screen (called split-screen). In that case, the Nintendo Switch version of the game is highly recommended: It features a beginner mode which allows your kid to race against you with minimal input with the computer helping him a lot steering and accelerating. That way, you can really play together. It even features a coop mode where teams race against each other (so can race TOGETHER against the AI).
#3 Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is an open world game that features massive “emerging storytelling”. Hence, it will give you and your child tons of stuff to talk about, while the gameplay is super easy to learn, yet hard to master! However, you and your kid will set their own goals and then work towards them; or do something else, if you like.
Your in-game character has inherited an old farm from your grandfather, and it is your job to get it up and running again: There is lots of stuff to do on the farm itself and the surrounding areas.
The game’s 2D, pixelated graphics style speaks a very clear language and is easy to understand for both kids and adults. You can adventure through a dungeon if you like, and the violence shown is very abstract. But if you like, you can avoid that entire portion of the game without losing anything and thus make sure the game is as peaceful as it gets.
#2 Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best, if not THE BEST, 3D adventure game of all times. Seriously! Check out the reviews on YouTube and the like. On Metacritic, it currently scores 97%! That’s almost too good to be true!
Benni and I play it a lot and we usually refer to it as “The Coin Game”. Because coins pop up everywhere and it’s Benni’s job to look out for them (and the power moons as well) and let me know when he spots them. We are really having a blast of a time playing the game.
I can’t recommend this gem enough. If you already own a Nintendo Switch, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy. If not, this game ALONE is worth getting a Nintendo Switch console. Trust me: You will have tons of fun; together with your kids!!!
And finally, here is my number one game for parents to enjoy together with their children: Minecraft! It’s available for almost ANY platform. And it’s gorgeous! It is super fun, highly creative, peaceful OR challenging (it’s up to you) and features “emerging storytelling” to an extent I’ve never seen in any other game before.
Benni loves Minecraft. And even though I abandoned the game for quite a few years since my time as an active Minecraft player, building the Lego Minecraft Sets (which I have talked a bit about in this blog post here) together with my son made me come back and show him the actual game that the aforementioned Lego sets were inspired by.
Minecraft is all about building stuff. At the end of the day, it is a digital Lego-like sandbox with endless possibilities.
My tip, though, especially if your kids are under six years old, would be to set up the game to “peaceful”. That way, there are no threats in the world (other than falling off cliffs maybe). What you usually do when you have the game set to “normal” is go inside during the night so you won’t face any mobs attacking you. I noticed that after doing that once or twice, Benni suddenly said “It’s getting dark, we have to go inside!” when we were playing the game. And I didn’t want that “reflex” to carry over to the real world; I don’t want him to be afraid of the night! So my suggestion is to turn mobs off and you won’t have any reason to go in at night!
I will, however, elaborate on this game and its specifics a bit more in a separate blog post, which you can find HERE once it is done 🙂
To wrap it up, I strongly believe that video games can have a positive impact on your kid’s development. As long as you make sure that you
- do not let your kid down and do not park him/her in front of the big screen
- communicate and discuss a lot
- take the experience beyond what you see on the screen
- make sure that at any given point you still have enough attention span to monitor your child
- select games that your kid can mentally handle and that reflect their reality
I hope that I was able to bring some light to this complicated topic. I am sure there are many opinions out there, and some may not feel comfortable playing games with their kids. Maybe you have a different (or non-existing) history with games and thus aren’t sure if you want to follow my advice. You don’t have to! For me and my son, it turns out very well!
A final word on media competence and why it’s worth trying out new things as a parent
Playing video games and consuming media will lead to one very important skill that you need as a parent in today’s world: Media competence! And maybe, just maybe the same rule that applies to kids applies to adults as well: There is no easier way to learn a new skill than through play. Let that sink in 🙂
Games aren’t your thing? How about this?
One thing, by the way, you can also try if gaming isn’t your thing, but maybe tech is: Hand your kid the computer mouse and open paint on your Windows machine (or some similar app for Mac) and allow your kid to paint a colorful image. That, just like gaming, will also open your kid the door to get in touch with technology early on, which I feel is so important.
This article is meant as an eye-opener. Maybe you found something refreshing in it. Maybe you want to give it a shot. Maybe not! Maybe you totally disagree. If you do, please leave a comment below and let’s discuss. I’m happy to read from you 🙂