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Video Games and Family Life. Empowering Parents and Taming Gaming - Interview with Andy Robertson

Andy Robertson's Family Video Game Database and new book Taming Gaming seek to support families make informed, confident decisions about the games they play while encouraging parents to see gaming as a positive means to connect and share with their children.

During the last 10 months socialising, like most aspects of our lives, has gone digital or moved online. As I’ve written in previous posts, children and adults alike have found fun, comfort, distraction and connection in engaging in playful pastimes online. Whether it's moving imaginative play onto a platform like TikTok , carrying out tabletop gaming via zoom or on gaming platforms - co-operative play has found a way!

Video games - moving past the moral panic

With lockdowns bringing an increase in time spent online, not all parents are happy with their children’s digital pastimes. Ofcom’s Life in Lockdown Media Use Report (2020) and a recent and widely shared New York Times article around children’s ‘screen time’ during lockdown both highlight the need for more resources and support for parents and carers concerned about children’s enjoyment of video games.

In addition to playing games regularly to relax and socialise, I have used games as a teacher in the classroom as a stimulus for engaging learning experiences. I have seen first hand how the immersive worlds of games can have a positive effect on engaging children with a range of educational outcomes as well as opportunities for developing pro social skills. I feel that to banish all video games to the realm of irrelevant or frivolous, or worse dangerous or damaging is a bold, sweeping action. Games have immense potential to strengthen connections, harness engagement and provide spaces for children to learn, take risks and solve problems.

Taming Gaming - helping families find balance

I was delighted when I got the opportunity to speak to Andy Robertson, family gaming journalist and writer of the Taming Gaming book and creator of the Family Video Game Database - an online family gaming database which provides support and advice for families who want to share the experience of gaming together in a positive way.

Andy has written about video games and family life for the last 15 years. In national newspapers and on broadcast television he has highlighted the plight of parents and carers caught between the imperative to help children benefit from technology while at the same time being chastised for too much screen time.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Taming Gaming and the Family Video Game Database’s beginnings?

I was invited to write a book for parents about video games by the publisher Unbound. Wanting to address the need for understanding and literacy about video games, we came up with the idea of a cook book for games. In bright, beautifully laid out pages it would enable parents and carers to see games in a new light and discover experiences they wanted to share with their family. The first half addresses fears about violence, addiction, gambling and online strangers and the second half is packed full of these recipes.

Then, because the book was delayed during the pandemic because of printing backlogs, I created a small website to support the book. Overnight this became really popular for its lists of games that “offered calm” “connected children and grandparents” or were “great to play together”. It ended up on BBC Breakfast, Sky News and elsewhere. Soon it had snowballed into a huge resource of over 900 games.

Family Video Game Database helps to inform children, young people and their parents or carers about an ever growing library of games. What criteria do you incorporate to help them discover just the right games for them?

The database is mainly aimed at parents and carers. We offer jargon free information about each game. Details on Age Rating, Length, Cost and what experiences they offer. We only include games in the database that we think are great recommendations. We also include big popular games that we want to offer less violent or more age appropriate alternatives to.

How can a parent or carer get involved with their child’s gaming if this isn't something they are personally interested in?

The first thing is to find some games to play themselves. This can sound difficult, but the database has a list of games that loads of reluctant parents I’ve worked with have been surprised by - and enjoyed playing.

Another great step is to play games together as a family. Again there is a list of family games that work well for this. This enables parents and carers to establish gaming as part of family life, rather than competing with it.

Online game streaming is growing in popularity with young viewers. What role do you think this has to play in children/young people’s gaming experience?

This is a common way that young people discover new games. When they see their favourite streamer playing something they want to play it too. On the Popular Family Games page on the database you can see what these game are as we see 1000’s of parents searching for them.

It’s important to keep an eye on these, as you can see in that list, as many will be designed for older players and some just for adults.

Have you received any parental feedback about Taming Gaming? What aspects do parents find most helpful/reassuring?

Parents like having somewhere to go that tells them what they need to know about the games their children are playing. They love being able to search for games for a specific age and without features they worry about like Loot Boxes or interactions with strangers.

While the moral panic around gaming isn’t new, do you think it is changing? Do you think attitudes might shift in the coming years?

The pattern of moral panics is that they continue until the next new thing arrives. I expect the panic and scary headlines to continue. I’m working hard to help parents have clear routes to take action and gain confidence to understand what is really going on. They can then address real dangers rather than imaginary ones.

What advice would you give a parent or carer who is concerned about how much time their child engages with video games?

I would start by saying that measuring healthy engagement by screen time is a poor measure. Better to ask what they are doing on the screen. Are they doing lots of different things or just one thing. Play together or sit with them as they play and you have a better idea of what is going on.

If the child is still eating with the family, doing school work, engaging with other activities and getting exercise there’s nothing to worry about.

The Family Video Game Database has grown immensely since its genesis in April 2020, what can we expect in the coming months?

We are going to be adding information about educational aspects of video games. Teachers, parents and experts will be adding note to the games about how they have been used in different settings. This is part of a wider conversation about understanding the benefits of games and how they can raise aspirations for children’s futures.

Along with this we will be launching a podcast as a platform to have extended conversations about the benefits of games that I’m looking forward to working on.

Andy’s book Taming Gaming is out now and is available to buy on The Guardian Bookshop, Waterstones, or Amazon. Of course, you can also find your next game recommendation at the Family Video Game Database. Personally I will be looking for more games which I can play remotely with my friends and (because I loved Untitled Goose Game so much) games where I can play the villain!


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