Just play: parenting lessons from gamer parents

From left to right, Chris Foster, Bekah Saltsman, Jason Kahn, and the moderator Katie Postma discuss incorporating games into family life during the panel Rated E for Everyone: the benefits of gaming as a family at PAX East in the Arachnid theater Thursday. Photo by Lillian Eden / BU News Service

By Lillian Eden
BU News Service

BOSTON – While a slideshow flipped through pictures of families playing games, game developers discussed how incorporating games into family life can help foster child development and form stronger family bonds.

Parents and children gathered at a panel on Thursday at PAX East, an annual gaming convention held in Boston, to hear a panel on how video, board and card games can be incorporated into family life.

Jason Kahn, the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Mightier, said that all the games in his home are kept out in the open. By allowing his kids to pick up a game for a while and put it down when they want, his children are better at self-regulating their play time.

“It’s there. It’s part of our family,” he said. “They get very good at that transition away from games as well. I hear a lot of parents worry about that. It’s just, for us, that strategy of having everything out and open has been really successful.”

Taking gaming as a lifestyle one step further, Rebekah Saltsman, the co-founder and CEO of Finji, always carries around a game whenever her family leaves the house.

“We take things with us,” she said. “We have a few minutes? It’s like, hey, we have nothing to do, let’s learn something new.”

Saltsman said she will take detours for PokemonGo or bring a Switch to the doctor’s office for her kids to play with.

“So they’ll be playing Smash at the allergist … it’s like, a pretty easy way to get three shots into a nine year old,” she said.

For Chris Foster, the lead designer of Fire Hose Games, scheduling a time makes it easier to incorporate gaming into his family.

“It somehow makes it a little more special because it’s like an event,” he said. 

Foster said that even before a game begins, his children have to come to a “common understanding” of the rules in order to play together.

“Navigating that space, navigating that conflict resolution and navigating sort of personal perception versus different perceptions, there’s a real opportunity there,” he said.

Kahn explained that, for children, watching adults cooperatively and competitively try and fail in games sets an example for how they should respond to adversity. 

“As a parent, what more can you possibly hope for than a kid who’s going to get frustrated, who’s going to get knocked down, and then get back up. That’s like, the best possible thing that can happen,” he said. 

Kahn also stressed the importance of letting play be play, and that it’s okay to set aside the in-game objectives in order to learn and experiment.  

“The temptation of the adults is to disclose that you’re driving the wrong way…but it’s like, no, just leave them alone. Like, they’re having a blast going whatever way they want,” he said. “There’s not a right way to play a game. Once it’s in your hand, whatever you want to do is completely in bounds.”

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