Killing Orcs With the Kids (GeekDad Weekly Rewind)

Geek Culture

A family photo.

I dodge left and hurl myself between my 8-year-old and the advancing orc. My other son takes out a couple of goblins while my wife provides cover from above with her trusty crossbow. The eight-year-old shouts a “thank you” while we all respond to the nine-year-old’s call that he needs help defending the crystal. Ah, multiplayer games with the family.

We’ve actively sought out multiplayer games for our iPads over the last few months. Not so much multiplayer like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, although they can be fun too, but games like Dungeon Defender and Order Chaos. Games where it’s not about one member of the family winning over the other members, but where we can work as a team against the computer.

I think there are some valuable lessons and experiences to be gained from playing games like these as a family and maybe, even, these are experiences you can’t get in real life. In real life, much as I might like to think I would if I had to, I can’t demonstrate sacrifice by holding back a zombie horde while my child heals.

Multiplayer adventure games are a great way for parents to demonstrate the teamwork and consideration that we hope for from our children. The games intrinsically create environments where you need to rely on your team members, share and distribute loot, plan and execute tactics. All valuable life skills for anyone.

Sure, you can do much of this in real life. But there is at least one element playing in the virtual world that is missing in real life – a level playing field. In the virtual world my son’s Orc muscles mean he is the strong one compared to my puny archer. We all have equal knowledge of where to go and what to achieve. We all have the same resources and money. In the virtual world we can genuinely be a team of equals in a way which is hard to achieve in the real world. And in turn that allows the adults involved to demonstrate rather than order or overtly teach.

There are obvious downsides, of course. I’ve read the studies of the impact of violent games on children and recognize the issue. But if you accept that in the modern world your kids will play computer games, then it surely has to be better that you are there to mentor them, protect them from the inappropriate, and discover firsthand if there really are scenes or issues they should not be exposed to. Is that really so conceptually different from taking the kids to a sporting match, holding their hand through the crowds and explaining why the drunk guy two rows down is swearing at the umpire?

For me though, the key thing is that level playing field. My family as a team, working together towards a common goal in a safe environment where the worst that can happen is your character being taken down by a passing dragon. Oh, and it can be a lot of fun, too…

[This article, by Evan Predavec, was originally published on Tuesday. Please leave any comments you may have on the original.]

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