By Reuben and Efraim Meulenberg
As avid gamers when we were younger, we have been on one side of this balancing act. Our parents were really good about letting us know the limits of game play and encouraging us to re-create our experiences online. And now as game developers, we have picked up on a few insights that will be helpful for parents as they find a way to set appropriate limits on games and game time in the home.
Here are the big five:
1. Focus on games with a clear ending.
There are different types of game designs that have different kinds of effects on your kids. Of course, your goal is to build your child’s self-discipline, but the goal of a game designer is to make a profit.
Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged: Free-To-Play games. These games are easy to get, because they are free. They start off fast-paced and fun. But slowly, once the gamer is fully invested, the game starts to slow down and the player needs to spend money to get the same thrill as in the beginning. In game-design circles, a lot of clues for these types of games are taken from the gambling-game industry in order to create mildly addicting tendencies, selling them on non-stop involvement.
For this reason, we recommend giving your kids games that have a clear ending. It could be a storyline, or a game they can play with friends that have short three- to five-minute sessions. This allows the game progress to be saved, or session to end at the call-to-dinner. These games are paid for up-front, and that’s why they aren’t made to be a constant addiction. We consider this as choosing a healthy snack over something not-so healthy that might be fine every once in awhile, but not on a regular basis. Junk food is often cheaper, but it comes at a different cost. It pays to be a bit weary of “free” and to invest in quality entertainment instead.
2. Use this formula: (entertainment time * grades) = playtime.
Infinities breed insecurity. Don’t give your kids an infinite time of entertainment. Provide a limit. Within that finite time, have them choose what kind of entertainment they want – movies, music, games – they can fill it in. This gives them ownership. Low grades should diminish that time, and high grades bring it to its maximum.
Also, instead of frantically chasing multiple kids, train them to tell you when their entertainment time is up. Now your workload is reduced to checking every now and then. And this new responsibility will make your kids active participators. As they get better, you’ll need to spend less and less energy.
3. Talk about their day on the digital playground.
A game transports kids to a playground where they can experience what it’s like to be soldiers, to maintain a house, to run a theme park, or to save the galaxy. Those can be great experiences. Kids want to talk about those experiences as much as they want to talk about their soccer game. Ask about the storylines, about what they built, how they’re going to continue. As a parent, you have the privilege of giving their life experiences a proper place. Don’t skip over the digital ones!
One thing our parents did was encourage us to re-create our experiences online. Game development was our outlet, but kids can also use imaginative play to recreate things they have done online, when appropriate. When we were kids, we had the thought of turning the best-selling book of all time into a video game, and now we are making that dream a reality through Kickstarter.
4. Adjust your own gaming to your child’s perception.
The average age of gamers is 35. There are more women over 18 who play games than teenagers under 17. We’re nearing the third generation of gamers. So chances are that you’re a gamer. No one needs to tell you that your kids know what games you play, what movies you watch, what books you read. If these works are not appropriate for the whole household, why have them in the house at all? Or at least be open to your kids about what you play and tell them what age they need to be before they can have those.
5. Monitor the games your child plays.
It’s a great idea to play the games your child is playing. Not only will this give you first-hand knowledge of the type of game they are playing, how much violence it might have or what the objective is, it will also help you dialogue with your child about it.
When your kids are engaged in a book, movie, or game, it’s almost like they’re having a conversation with the ones who made it. A creative team somewhere developed an entertaining world according to their worldview; what does this worldview say? Which developers will you let your kids hang out with? When you find good ones, follow and support them. You need them. They need you.
All of these tips center on communication. Getting your family together and deciding on fair rules and discussing why limits are set and what is expected is a great start to making your home a peaceful place for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Ruben and Efraim Meulenberg are identical twins who trained 40,000 game developers and 20,000 musicians. They’ve been in ministry for 15 years and live to provide meaningful media to families and churches. For their latest project, they're working with Kickstarter in order to turn the Bible into a high-quality videogame. Support them now!
Publication date: November 18, 2014