Move over, Monopoly: ASU researchers find families bond over video game play

Thursday, July 25, 2013
by Judy Crawford

For parents, it may not make sense at first. But the video games they think create distance between them and their children could actually bring the family closer together.

Arizona State University scientists are studying the educational value of video games. They say that a shared gaming experience can improve communication among family members.

The video game research is inspiring a gaming night. It is hosted by ASU’s Center for Games & Impact on July 31 at the Phoenix Art Museum. The event is part of the museum’s "The Art of Video Games" interactive exhibit. The exhibit explores the 40-year history of video games. That includes traditional fan favorites like Super Mario Bros. and PAC-MAN. It also covers the more recently popular Myst, The Secret of Monkey Island and Flower. The exhibit premiered in March 2012 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. It continues at Phoenix Art Museum through Sept. 29, 2013.

The event is titled “Under 21 – Intergenerational Game Play.” Children ages 10-14 and their parents will team up for an hour to explore links between video games and art. The free sessions are offered at 5 and 6:30 p.m. Seating is limited. RSVP: http://bit.ly/124m6p7

Elisabeth Hayes is a professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her coworker is Sinem Siyahhan, professor in the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. The two began studying video games earlier this year. They held focus groups at ASU Preparatory Academy to find out how parents view video game play with their children.

“Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids,” Hayes explained. “Often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared. And they can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving. Gaming with their children also offers parents ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’”

Siyahhan noted that elementary school students going in to middle school want to develop greater independence from their parents. These “digital natives” may use video game play as a way to be alone. Parents who play video games with their kids can open up communication.

“Video game play becomes a point of conversation, not a point of conflict,” Siyahhan said. “On the flip side, it’s nice for the child to be able to teach his or her parents about gaming. Sharing this experience leads to family bonding, learning and improved well-being.”

Hayes says parents may think poorly of first-person shooter video games because of the media. She hopes to bust that myth. She and Siyahhan are organizing more family game nights. They hope to expose parents to games such as The Sims – one of the best-selling computer games of all time. It can promote positive relationships and critical thinking skills. The Sims is an artificial life program. It allows gamers to create and manage their own homes.

“There are more advantages of gaming with your children. You can help them identify appropriate fan communities where gamers discuss the games. They also create art and share fan fiction, as well as play the games with one another,” Hayes said.

The Center for Games & Impact offers a library of guides designed to help parents talk with their children about gaming. These guides can be downloaded at http://gamesandimpact.org/about/parents/.

Since opening in mid-June, "The Art of Video Games" has been attracting new audiences to the Phoenix Art Museum.

“This retrospective of video games is creating different levels of nostalgia,” says Christian Adame, assistant curator for education. “At the same time, there’s a different point of interaction than we normally see.

Instead of sharing a painting or a sculpture, a father may be showing his child how to play PAC-MAN. Then the child shows his parents how to play Flower.

“When you compare the video game exhibit to our other exhibits, we’re seeing a lot more men!”

The museum also offers a neutral space for families to share game play. “At home, family members tend to play games individually. At the museum, they learn to play the video game together,” says Noelle Castro, program assistant for youth and family programs.

Also in July, ASU’s Center for Games & Impact is teaming up with the Phoenix Art Museum for two other events. They are part of "The Art of Video Games" exhibit. The details follow:

Event 1:

Date: July 20
Time: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
 Description: Video game creators from ASU’s Center for Games & Impact will design video games live at Phoenix Art Museum. Visitors can observe game designers using computer graphic equipment to work on game projects they are currently creating for the center.

Event 2:

Date: July 20
Time: 2-4 p.m.
 Description: A Center for Games & Impact staff member will provide a live demonstration of Flower. It is a video game where the player controls the wind as it blows a single flower petal through the air. The game will be displayed on a large screen. A live electronic orchestra accompanies the game. Audience members also will be invited to play the game and the orchestra will respond to their game play.