Although I have yet to become one, I still find it safe to say being a parent can be challenging. It would seem moments of reprieve or relaxation are too infrequent at times to keep a guardian energized. We all know the signs of the defeated: toothpaste splattered on the mirror, socks never seem to match, and the snooze button is your best friend. To curb the tide of chaos in the 21st century, many parents have turned to distracting their offspring by placing a screen in-between their hands while they clean up the mess … or sleep. The underlying technique has been a staple of child-rearing for centuries, but never before has the manifestation been so potent. PlayStations, iPads, and Nintendo Switches aren’t just sleight-of-hand parlor tricks; they are portals to other worlds showcasing ideas that can wither or grow a youthful mind.
As we learn more about the interactive digital medium, we’re finding out that without some guidance things can go horribly awry. Children can be exposed to adult content (Grand Theft Auto is not for kids, folks), experience cyber-bullying while playing online, and even lose their self-control (video game addiction/disorder). Without being properly equipped, something that is supposed to be fun and meaningful can end up causing serious harm to a still malleable psyche.
Enter Andy Robertson. A father and gamer himself, Andy decided to take up the mantle of addressing the near barren selection of parenting video game resources by writing the definitive one: Taming Gaming. The achievement here is more than the culmination of academia on the subject being made organized and palatable; this is not a college textbook for 101 level parenting. Andy’s approach cuts through the noise; combining the right notes in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of parts; it’s like listening to a catchy pop-song for the first time and getting it stuck in your head. He provides succinct strategies that are just easy to remember. Those looking for an excellent formula for handling their children playing video games, the green-highlighted resource sections are the way to go. But if you have the time available to read cover to cover, you’ll realize this is a book about developing an appreciation and deeper understanding for Play itself.
The artistry at work is the weaving together of simple chords to form the symphony: the idea that via play we are creating a different nature without being of that nature or bound to it. Play allows us to safely convey concepts that exist in our reality in a more direct and understandable way without manifesting the consequences. Play is teaching. Play is learning. And what we play matters.
Don’t worry, Andy has this covered as well with his “Taming Gaming Database.” This is a carefully curated and monitored compendium of video games that are fantastic experiences to share with others of any age. The forms and themes present in the art we consume, when rightly ordered and well executed, should stand as beacons to think higher and look beyond. In short, great works elevate. Take Journey for example, developed by Thatgamecompany. At first glance, the aesthetics are achingly beautiful and so is the ethereal and sweeping score. These two features alone best a lot of modern day painting and music. But by making the experience interactive and inviting the consumer to play, we can communicate something indelible. Journey is an intentional distillation of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”; the secret formula behind a lot of pop-culture phenomena such as Star Wars, Spiderman, and Harry Potter. It’s a game devoid of bombastic shooting or cleaving monsters in two, and there is deliberately no time wasted on exposition of ancillary characters. It’s about you and a stranger trying to work together to make it to the top of a distant and mysterious mountain. This stranger isn’t some artificial intelligence conjured by the developers, it’s truly another person.
Journey forces you to work with others with limited means of communication—no voice chat or instant messaging, just a handful of signs and sounds to work with. While daunting at first, there is a brilliant reason for this constraint. The gaps between the few chimes players can make are filled in with audio cues from the environment when players work together successfully. When strung together in the right order, you’re writing a melody while collaborating to solve puzzles—a pleasing new note for a correct next step. Harmony is achieved by listening to each other, quite literally; and in error, dissonance. Only in this medium can such a simple message be so effectively imparted. It’s all due to the power of one word: agency.
Taming Gaming is all about understanding how to harness the agency in play to create strong relationships with your kids; Andy just happened to use video games as the vehicle. By willingly taking an interest and participating in their world for a little bit, you are showing them in a profound way that you are listening. And the thing is that by listening, you are forging a bond that will outlive you. Creation is about passing on a light; it does not stop with the flesh. As a fundamentally creative act, play is our best tool for keeping the fire going from generation to generation. I thank Andy for this lesson.