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Bonding Through Video Games: Not All Screen Time's Created Equal

Operation Sports

Bonding Through Video Games: Not All Screen Time's Created Equal

As a kid growing up in the 1980s, video games were a big part of my childhood. My brother and I spent countless hours saving princesses, battling Ganon, memorizing the Konami code and scouring issues of Nintendo Power for any tidbits of news we could find on our favorite games.

But it wasn’t until I got a glimpse of EA’s NHL Hockey that I truly fell in love with video games. The real teams, real players (albeit without the NHLPA license at the time) and realistic-for-its-time gameplay hooked me instantly. As soon as I could scrounge up enough money, I bought a Sega Genesis just for that one game.

It wasn’t long before my brother and I were staging seven-game series after seven-game series against each other, keeping written records of the results and taunting each other mercilessly. We connected over that game and its various sequels, and spent hundreds of hours sitting side by side having the time of our lives.

NHL Hockey led to Madden, Madden led to Bulls vs. Blazers and it wasn’t long before sports games made up the vast majority of my game library. Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football, Sports Talk Baseball, World Series Baseball, NBA Jam, FIFA Soccer and many others got countless hours of play time.

Back then the AI rarely put up much of a fight even at the highest difficulty settings and season modes were usually very bare bones. This was also many years before online gaming, so it was head-to-head play with the person sitting next to you on the couch that was usually the most fun.

My dad grew up before video games and didn’t have much use for them. A handful of times he tried to play with me and my brother, but when you’re not familiar with a controller, let alone what all the buttons do, it was easy to understand why he graciously muddled through a game or two and then bowed out. It just wasn’t his thing.

Fast forward a generation and my own kids have grown up surrounded by consoles. Video games aren’t a novelty in our house. They’re ubiquitous. My kids think nothing of their dad playing video games. In fact, games have become a terrific way to bond with them.

In 2019, parents are bombarded by stories about the dangers of screen time. Kids are surrounded by smartphones, iPads, video games, computers and televisions, so concerns about the ill effects of too much screen time certainly aren’t unfounded. It makes perfect sense that spending all day staring at screens instead of getting out and being active would be detrimental for kids (and adults too, for that matter).

But not all screen time is created equal. My son and I spend a lot of time together dueling in NBA 2K20. We love to choose between the classic and current rosters and then randomly select our teams. He tends to prefer teams with great outside shooters like the ’15-’16 Warriors, where he can use his teenage reflexes to his advantage by nailing the shooting timing and draining threes on me. In contrast, I like teams with talented big men so I can slow down the pace, pound the ball down low, and rely more on strategy and experience to grind out wins.

Game after game we laugh, and argue and battle it out. We’ve had similar moments with FIFA, NHL and Madden, much like my brother and I did 25 years ago. My daughter even gets in on the act if we break out Mario Kart.

The key to it all of it is we’re spending time together. Yes, it’s in front of a screen, but it’s still bonding time. It’s creating memories and making us closer. And, as a parent, that’s what you really want.


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  1. Love it!
    When I was younger, I played games with my uncle and step dad and I've grown up to share a similar role with my younger brother and cousins. Can't wait to play around with my kids and nephews when they come along.
    Yeah really good stuff my best friend and had some truly epic games on nba while we were in high school.  Live 98 through live 2001.  Went to college and met more friends we set up a dynasty with about 6 or 7 of us split with about two people in all the major conferences.  Recruitment battles were sometimes better than the games.  Then at dinner time in cafe we brag on games played earlier or preview upcoming coming after dinner between players.  Last but least bragging rights on who  got that beast recruit.  Man  those were awesome times.
    For those who've seen "Field of Dreams":  somehow, I don't think "Hey, Dad?  You wanna play some NBA Jam?" is ever really going to replace "Hey, Dad?  You wanna have a catch?"  ;p  But, leaving that tiny bit of snark aside...
    I do have to agree with the basic premise.  Too many 'rents these days seem to think the word "babysitter" is spelled M-A-R-I-O. 
    And, fair enough, there are parts of the country where kids can't easily play outside.  Whether it's because too many lawyers took the fun out of the local playground, or because some busybody thinks it's "child endangerment" to let kids walk unaccompanied to whatever passes for said playground these days, I can kind of understand the bunker mentality.
    Still...that's not the only way to bond indoors.  There are still plenty of ways for families to play together, which don't need to involve microchips. 
    I do get it, though, really:  video games are now a generational thing, which they previously weren't.  And that can be a good thing...provided that it's not the only way to play.
    Just my $0.02.
    Excellent post. Anyone who doesn't play video games assumes they're addictive or bust. Let alone have no cognitive/social value. But sticking kids in front of iPads for hours at a time, unsupervised?! Any time your kid wants to play with you is a gift.
    Related, the older I get, the more I bond with individuals my age who still play. Who then play with their kids. Thus, the reverse is happening: games are bringing parents and their children together, not apart. The author is correct: this generation is used to games, and it's a good thing.
    In the late 80s and early 90s, my brother and I had many fights over these games. One argued the game 'cheats' the other argued it was all about skill. The biggest culprit of the 'cheating game' was Double Dribble... the basketball game where baskets on one court was always a give me while the other end was nearly impossible... even on those lame dunks.
    Then of course, Tecmo Bowl came and not only was it my brother and I but a bunch of our neighborhood friends as well. What I remember most about those days is that we didn't have twitter or whatever... if you were about to fight Mike Tyson in Punch Out, you better have a witness otherwise you beating him never happened.
    Then when I went to college... man video games united the entire floor. In our madden league, when it was your turn to play, you had 6 hours to play or your game was skipped. We didn't want to hear any nonsense about studying, midterms, papers, or any other garbage!! haha
    Ahh... those were the days and thanks for writing this blog.
    I too can throw my hand up as an 80's kid that engaged in the digital battles with family and friends, but for every second of Atari/Nintendo/Sega we spent twice that much playing the real thing in the backyard or at the park.  So sadly, I fear that the " want to have a catch?" is becoming obsolete. 
    I do believe that not all screen time is equal. IMO there is a big difference between screen time of playing a sports video game from something like that fortnite or any other of this shootem up games, where your killing people, zombies or whatever.
    I dont think any kid, should sit in front of a TV or computer screen all day, regardless what it is their playing. But sports games, and simulator games, like truck simulator, or Farm Simulator that my brother and I both play, because we farm IRL, are alot better and safer on a kid, than those killing games.
    My 12 yr old niece, who likes to play that fortnite, and war games, her attitude changes, when my brother allows her to play more often, she gets mouthy with him, and she dont listen, when he says to shut it off, and come eat, or shut it off, because time is up.  She throws a fit, like nothing I have seen before. Its all he can do, to keep from beating her silly, with how bad she gets, when she plays those games. 
    Ive never seen anything like it, when she isnt allowed to play the PS4, she has a Ipad in her face watching videos. I know some of it is due to her parents getting divorced, and living with me half the time, but she is just plain lazy, her 4 yr old sister, can outwork her, she is always out in the shop wanting to help work on or clean tractors. Her mom is dirty and lazy, so she obviously gets it from her. But I blame alot of it on these dang video games, and just the crap they teach in school now days, along with everything they do at school is on a computer.
    I use to think it was just nonsense, when people were saying, there was something in TV screens, that was brainwashing our kids, and changing their brain, basically dumbing them down. But now that I have seen it with my own eyes, I believe it 100%.  Sad thing, is I know there is alot of kids, even worse than my niece, because there is alot of bad parenting out there, where they give their kids power and control. As my Grandparents use to say, a kid is to be seen not heard, and boy is that true, lol.
    My son is 9 and it has been a joy over the past 9 months or so as he has really gotten into 2K. Even when he gets mad and storms off because I beat him hahahaha. 
    Gaming is slowly getting more accepted which is huge. There are benefits associated with it that get ignored. I love gaming with friends and family, help develop different skills.

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