First Steps Into Family Gaming
Author: Andy Robertson
Given that they are new, video games can seem unlike other paraphernalia of family life. The boxes, cables, controllers, cartridges, discs and screens can be intimidating and alien. But as Iain Simons and James Newman say in A History of Video Games, we need to remember they are just things, like other things our children play with – buckets and spades, a grocer’s set, a bike, crayons, a trainset. ‘For sure, videogames are about graphics and sound, they are made of zeros and ones, data and code… But most importantly, let’s not forget that they are things (and they’re covered in fingerprints).’
In the same way that my children used to mark their favourite toys by scrawling their names on them, their game systems would look a state by the time they’d had them a year: covered in stickers and fingerprints, with floppy hinges from overuse and being inadvertently dropped. Official styluses were soon lost, and replaced with pen lids. Controllers’ sticks became droopy, and their buttons always looked like they needed a good clean.
My children are older now, so they keep things (a little) tidier. Their gaming is more about pro-controllers, gaming bean bags, branded headsets and limited-edition consoles. The premise is the same, though: they treat video games like any other thing in their lives. Sometimes they get the latest technology – on birthdays or at Christmas – but often they make do with what they already have or find what they need second-hand.
Getting ready for video games in your family doesn’t mean spending loads of money on pristine plastic monoliths glowing in the corner of the living room. Second-hand or handed down consoles and games are a great way to get started. Just as important is the time you spend research and choosing what games and systems you will play on. Add to this an afternoon setting things up before your kids start playing and you are on the road to an affordable, safe, enjoyable new hobby.
Use What You’ve GotYou already have many devices in your home that can play video games. Before you think about getting a console or dedicated gaming computer, it’s worth knowing that most smartphones and tablets are good for games too. Smart TVs or streaming boxes like Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV also offer a range of video games.
For older smartphones and TVs the range of games on offer will be more limited, but they can still be a lot of fun, and younger children won’t mind what they’re playing games on. Older children may baulk at the idea of not having the latest kit, but starting like this means you’re more likely to discover games that aren’t just the latest fad.
Use the Gaming Recipes at the back of this book to find some really good games for your children to play on the devices you already own. Download the games onto your own device as well as theirs, so you get a first-hand understanding of what they are doing. This means you not only dip into the experience but see how it develops over time along with any notifications or incentives to play.
Unlike games consoles or handheld devices, generic hardware like tablets, smartphones, smart TVs or streaming boxes don’t come with dedicated controllers. Many games embrace this and are beautifully designed for touchscreens. That said, purchasing a Bluetooth gamepad provides a controller with buttons and joysticks that makes playing a wider range of games even on older smartphones, tablets or TVs easier. It’s also worth noting that many tablets and smartphones support wireless PlayStation and Xbox gamepads that friends or family may be able to lend you.
Starting with the technology you already have is a good way to test the water and develop good habits. But still, before handing a child a smartphone or tablet to use for gaming, it’s important that you set it up so they can use it safely and without any surprises.
These devices each offer detailed ways to set boundaries and control what your child can and can’t do. The key areas to consider are whether you have a credit card or account set-up on your device with which your child could spend money; whether they can play online with other people; and what gaming content they can access.
A few minutes in the ‘Restrictions’, ‘Parental Controls’ or ‘Family Settings’ menus on your device will enable you to specify whether your child can download or purchase apps and how (or if) they can communicate with other players. Ensure any credit cards on the system are linked to an email address that you regularly check so you can see any notifications of online transactions. You can also set age limits to avoid inappropriate apps being used. Finally, you should apply a password to these settings before your child starts playing.
Thank you for using our resource, supported by AskAboutGames, ParentZone and PlayAbility Initiative. We are editorially independent, written by parents for parents, but welcome sponsorship, partnership and suggestions. Email our editor for details on these opportunities.
The information on this database is designed to support and complement the in-depth discussion and advice about video game "addiction", violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. If you have any concerns or questions in these areas, email our editor who is quick to respond or can arrange for a one-to-one conversation.