What most parents think when you say the words “video game” and what gaming families enjoy are two very different things. Far from the shooting and high impact action many mums and dads assume are the driving force behind the hobby, video games actually offer experiences as creative, imaginative and interesting as any other media.
The challenge is how to bring bridge this parent-game perception gap. It’s important because to get families enjoying games together, they need to have a shared understanding of what they offer.
One approach here is to tell parents about games that offer experiences they don’t expect. Tell them about games like Let’s Catch where the narrative of the characters' lives is as much a part of the play-mechanic as the throwing and catching. Tell them about games like Mario Chase in Nintendo Land that take playground staples and give them a new twist in the living room. And of course tell them about games like Minecraft or Disney Infinity that open a door to creating new worlds.
However, far better than telling is showing, and here a clutch of Nintendo games make for fertile ground. Bringing the video game console back into the living room was unthinkable before the Wii made a big splash with families. Now with the Wii U, playing games like Wii Sports Club, Mario Kart 8 and Game & Wario offer engaging experiences for all ages. Before you know it, the whole family is drawn into playing.
Taking this a step further are a bunch of creative titles on the 3DS that edge us away from combat towards educational experiences. The original Art Academy, Flipnote Studio and Colors! 3D each offer genuine creative output for children and parents.
This month I’ve been putting that to the test with Pokémon Art Academy. As soon as the parents I talked to heard that it was a Pokémon game, they expected the drawing side to be secondary to the battling and collecting. However, as you’ll know if you've already tried it, Pokémon Art Academy offers as comprehensive a drawing lesson as you would find in school.
Watch someone work with the stylus to create a range of Pokémon-themed art and it is clear that real skill and technique is being developed here. This is all the more significant because of the Pokémon theme – it means that parents are less likely to assume other games are just about entertainment or fighting simply because of their familiar characters.
While things start at a low level so that players of all ages can make progress, the game soon opens out to offer a real challenge to players and artists of all abilities. In the families I've worked with, some have even been inspired to revisit skills they had forgotten they’d learnt at school.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to helping families get more out of games, when progress is made they are always keen to benefit from what video games have to offer them. The Holy Grail here is to get parents leading the way in their family’s choices and play patterns. Games like Pokémon Art Academy seem to do this well.
That’s my experience with family gaming, but what is yours? Perhaps we could put together a list of the most surprising family games Nintendo has to offer? All those hidden gems that not only work with young players but engage us in unexpected ways and offer experiences we wouldn't now be without.