Getting the Most Out of Family Gaming on a Budget
Although they can seem much more complex and intimidating, videogames aren't hugely different from other activities we do in our homes. Watching a film, playing cards, baking a cake or sharing a meal are most enjoyable when we do them together. Similarly, videogames work best for a family when they are shared, particularly when younger children are involved.
With so many games on offer it can be hard to find the games that best suit your family's individual make up. A game that suits a 5 year old won't necessarily suit an 8 year old for instance, and some games are better at involving a range of different abilities than others. It can be a hurdle that results in parents washing their hands of these choices, meaning it's the children who take the lead. But it doesn't have to be like that.
Talking to other families with children of similar ages is a great way to find recommendations. If you don't have anyone like that at hand you can also consult age-related game recommendations online, like the Family Gamer Awards I run, that are a good way to discover games that will suit your particular family setup.
Of course not everyone finds videogames interesting, or wants to spend time playing them. For young families though it is important that, where games are being played, parents get involved in some way or other. This might be watching and advising rather than playing, but it is critical to ensure that videogames don't become annexed in bedrooms as children get older.
This isn't just about monitoring the sorts of experiences your family is having with videogames, but about getting the most out of them together. Games are much more fun when they are shared, and many parents find a valuable connection with their children during this sort of play time -- and a great way to engage with a whole range of interesting and unusual topics.
Once you have identified the sort of games that might work for your family, you need to make a choice about which console you will play them on. The popularity of the Wii's simple controls have been joined by Sony's more accurate Move motion controller and Microsoft's Xbox Kinect system, where you control the game by just moving around in front of a camera. Each of these options has different benefits and limitations and should be tried out before purchasing.
Handheld systems like the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable offer the greatest challenge to playing games together as they can only be used by one player at a time. In spite of their popularity families are often rightly cautious about bringing these into the home as they need to be handled with care.
Newer handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita (released in Feb 2012) do help here by offering different ways to play together. As well as the 3D screen the 3DS enables you to interact via its built-in cameras and motion sensors like the Wii which makes it a much more shareable experience. The PlayStation Vita, like the iPhone and iPad, can be used in conjunction with your TV screen to get more people involved in the action. Completing this picture is the WiiU, Nintendo's new console launching in 2012, which will combine a screen on the controller with your Television to invent new ways to play together.
This Christmas has also seen a new trend in using toys to interact with videogames. Skylanders Spyro's Adventure, for example, enables players to access characters in the game by using toy figures they purchase separately. Cars AppMates is an example on the iPad where players steer vehicles in the game by placing special toy cars on the screen and moving them around.
Making the most of these different options isn't about having the latest technology or understanding how all this works in great detail. Rather, it is about taking advantage of the one or two games that are the best fit for your family. A bit of research before making these purchases can make all the difference.
Many families will find that the best games for them are actually older titles, or something they have enjoyed when visiting friends and family. This can be a great way to also save money, particularly because videogames often come down in price more rapidly than other entertainment products.
Once you have made your purchases and have your videogame system back at home it is worth spending some time setting it up before letting the family loose on it. This gives you a chance to choose the best room of the house to play in -- ideally a shared family space. It also means you can take advantage of the parental settings. For example, on the Xbox these enable you to control which age ratings are accessible, how long you play for and limits how you interact with other players online.
Like most good things in life, a bit of effort up front can make videogames much more engaging and enjoyable. Whether you choose videogame that get you dancing, adventuring, racing, exploring or strategising, doing it as a family will make it much more fun.
Andy Robertson is a Family Gaming expert.