BY Fast Company 4 MINUTE READ

With the likes of Fortnite and Call of Duty taking the world by storm, and men and women of all ages – literally from primary school kids to working professionals – catching onto the gaming craze, the concept of using this once anti-social habit as a family bonding activity, is becoming increasingly reasonable.

Embracing gaming as a family can have multiple educational, physical, mental and emotional benefits for everyone – and offer unprecedented bonding opportunities across generations. While a Harvard Medical School study found that gaming has real emotional and mental benefits for children, parents still often focus on the negatives like the perception that gaming will make the kids ‘couch potatoes’ or hamper their social development – but in many cases, the opposite is actually true.

Sharing Interests
Kids have plenty of after-school activity options these days, and it’s easy for them to become a bit of a blur for your children, and something of an excuse for yourself to free up some time.

“If gaming is something you have an interest in – or are looking to recapture an interest in – it provides the opportunity for the development of a shared interest,” says Marco Lopes, Head of Gaming and Sport at Vodacom. The validation offered by showing an interest in an activity that your kids love, and participating alongside them – or even head-to-head – can help increase your bond around a shared interest. Having a handle on what interests them could also potentially help you understand them better and give you additional insight into what’s going on in their internal lives.

Playinc, a mobile gaming platform which is available from your app store, grants you access to a library of over 2000 games as part of a daily or weekly subscription. This is an ideal option to expose your family to a world of gaming and will provide many opportunities to share in your children’s gaming interests.

Unpacking Lessons
There are plenty of mindless games out there, but there are also plenty that teach important lessons and skills, without being implicitly educational. Jordan Shapiro, author of FREEPLAY: A Video Game Guide to Maximum Euphoric Bliss, says that he rapidly realised that questioning the ways of making sense of the world that video games were teaching his kids, was important. He wrote for Forbes: “I unpacked the positive lessons in Frogger, Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, and more. I considered the moral lessons hiding right beneath the surface of this relatively new canon of interactive mythology and fairy tales”.

Gaming is not a replacement for reading, but some games do require levels of engagement, decision-making and problem-solving that books or movies don’t generally require. Learning that actions have consequences within the game is a valuable lesson out in the real world – and something worth discussing and debating as a family.

Spurring Creativity
Any kind of play develops the imagination, and while getting outside and creating an imaginary world is essential for any child’s development, gaming does offer incredible immersion opportunities that give children the chance to live many lives.

“Whether role playing as a fighter pilot, pop singer, scientist or dancer, it gives them the opportunity to explore exciting new avenues – and creating a safe space for them to do so by participating as a family will help them discover more about themselves and develop their imagination,” says Lopes.

Developing Social Skills
Multi-player games like Minecraft essentially replicate human social experiences in a virtual world. There are social interactions with all sorts of personalities, invitations to join in, group cohesion – and even conflict. Within boundaries, it’s a great opportunity for kids to develop their social skills – and provides a platform for parents to have discussions with their children about their experiences and how they handle situations that arise in the virtual gaming space.

“Watching how your children interact with others in these spaces – and discussing different ways of dealing with the conflict that arises can develop a fun and supportive space for their emotional intelligence to grow,” says Lopes. “Talking to them about the situations they find themselves in can help equip them with the vocabulary and tools they need to navigate both virtual and real-world social scenarios”.

Sharing different ways of learning
Gamification is part and parcel of the modern world – from connected fitness trackers that reward activity to the use of video games by educational institutions to improve cognitive and creative abilities. “There used to be a clear divide between toys and games that were educational and those which are ‘fun’ – and children could spot the difference a mile away,” says Lopes. “Nowadays, the rich world of gaming offers a combination of the two, which stretches the imagination while offering valuable teaching and learning opportunities”.

Embrace The New World
Job descriptions as you knew them when you started out in the working world have changed significantly – and by the time your kids head into the workforce, they’ll be utterly unrecognisable. Developing an interest in gaming gives them insights into an increasingly connected world and will help equip them with skills that you never thought you’d need, yourself.

The rise of gaming and e-sports as a global, multi-million Dollar phenomenon that draws hundreds of thousands of viewers at top events is also a sign of the new order of things. Professional gamers do spend plenty of time in front of screens honing their skills (with the accompanying cognitive benefits), but they also have teams of people dedicated to ensuring that they eat nutritious meals and take care of themselves physically & mentally. ‘Playing video games’ is not what it used to be.