Nothing beats hearing your kids dissolving into that can’t help themselves giggle-laugh in another room. So when the Husman and I were hanging out in the kitchen drinking coffee one Saturday morning and we heard the kids whisper-dissolving into that kind of laughter, we exchanged looks and waited. The giggles and whispers got closer until appearing on the stairs, clad only in their boxer-briefs, were our sons holding an elongated tube of art paper that they had managed to stretch out between the two of them like a Chinese paper yoyo. Then, as they giggle-shushed each other, the eldest descended a few steps and the youngest drew a deep breath, put this mouth to the narrow side of the now five stair-long tube and said, in a perfect mimic of the game character, “Attention fools! Here comes Kaos!”
So your kids are out of time on technology, but still want to play? Awesome! Give them game themed activities instead. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
There are some really great Super Mario Puzzles out there. We have found several of them at Target, but you can find them online at Toys R Us, Amazon, Puzzle Warehouse and so on. Usually, my kids will lay claim to a character and put that one together, while I do the outline, though we’ve even had the neighbor kids help put them together.
Pokemon origami is very easy to do and lots of people have posted tutorials on the web. You can often find them on Pinterest or even Deviant Art as this Pikachu by Synconi is. Please note that due to people ripping off the original creator, this link requires you to join Deviant Art to view the tutorial. Or you can be a jerk and find it on Pinterest.
Also in the paper media form is this kind of Pokemon art/craft. Print, cut, fold, and paste and end up with these awesome creations.
Video game characters and items really lend themselves to anything that mimics pixelization. Pull out the Perler beads folks, ’cause nearly anything can be made out of these suckers. You can look on Pinterest for ideas, or again on Deviant Art. Just be respectful of the artists. Most of them don’t mind your kids copying their ideas for fun, but it’s not kind to post their art without giving them credit. Basic Perler beads can be found in stores or on Amazon. If, however, you find that your kids really get into this by, say, making a keyblade, you’re gonna want to order the extra colors directly from the source. And pick up about 12 extra plates or so. But just think how quiet the house will be.
Here’s the link most of the giant keyblades have been based on (as far as I can tell.)
If you have someone who crochets, you can look up patterns for screen shots of 8-bit games to turn into blankets, or even pokeball patterns. And who can mention crochet without bringing up Sackboy. I picked this link because the artist/crafter has other variations besides the first little guy.
You can even get your gamers into making plushies, scarves (such as Link’s from Hyrule a Warriors) or hats with fleece. Clear kid on Deviant Art has a basic hat pattern. A few of your kid’s own tweaks and they could have a Pan-Cham hat to wear.
And finally for this post, I’ll end with cross stitch. Yet another media that lends itself well to pixel created art. Please check out Pinterest and Deviant Art to see what patterns are out there, but I also want to direct you to the people over at Sprite Stitch. There is an absolutely beautiful pattern for a Legend of Zelda in-game stained glass window turned into a cross stitch pattern. Though you might want to start the kids with something a little simpler.
I have a Zelda charm hanging from my purse. You know, the kind they used to make for cell phones and which would be hanging from my cell phone if they made those little bars to tie them from anymore. Nowadays you have to get a cell phone plug, but that’s not really my point. It’s that I have a Legend of Zelda charm hanging off my purse and while the fan-girl inside me goes squee, the girl gamer inside me raises an eyebrow. Because it’s not Link. It is, in fact, Zelda. And my girl gamer side goes, “You have a princess on your purse, an object you swore you would never use in the first place since you can stuff you phone and cash in your pocket, and now you have adorned it with a pink, blonde, skirted thing.” Yup. I do indeed. And, actually, I’m rather proud of it.
To the masses of uneducated in the ways of LoZ, it would appear I am a rather normal mom-type who has made the unfortunate choice of hanging a toy from her purse. To those who recognize who is hanging from my purse a little mind game ensues. Either they see me as a girl who maybe plays some video games but likes only the “girly” things in video games, or they recognize that I have a figure from The Minish Cap.
The first opinion means that they see me a less of a gamer and more of a “girl”, and not in the good way. They see someone who likes pink, likes princesses, and probably can’t hold her own in a fight. These are the people who still use “fight like a girl”, “run like a girl” and all those other ridiculous insults that really mean simply they are stuck in the past, can’t recognize the strength and ability women have, and would probably refuse to play with girls on their team in a video game and then be seriously offended when one pwns them.
On on the flip side, you have those who know where my mascot comes from. I get a nod for having a character from a clever game, a game where you have to be smart to play well. I get a nod for liking Legend of Zelda, for liking being smart, clever, a strategic fighter, a puzzle solver. I get a nod for the fact that this particular Zelda is not from one of the big name LoZ games; for liking one of the more obscure LoZ games; for being a true fan-girl, not just a casual fan. But I lose some cred for having Zelda as my mascot of choice. I place myself in with the girls who play video games, but prefer Princess Peach to Mario and Luigi, refusing to identify with anyone but the girls in a game. There’s sort of a knee jerk reaction of “oh…she likes Zelda….”
And here’s the thing. I have probably bought into and propagated both of those opinions myself. I am sure I have disparaged girls who casually game, or girls who prefer the female characters in a game where the main characters were boys, especially if it was a princess who had to be rescued. But I have changed and grown throughout the years and become more accepting of the myriad ways of being that girls are. And I have given up more and more the idea that you have to be a tomboy to be cool. But beyond all that lies this: If you thought that Zelda was a pea-princess who needs a man to save her, and that she has no power, ability, smarts or worth other than as a goal for Link, you couldn’t be more wrong. As the series has grown, so has Zelda. She is the holder of the triforce of wisdom. We could just stop there. The wisest character in the LoZ series is a girl. But it gets better. Zelda has been the leader of a pirate band, the wielder of the arrows of light, the masked warrior, and the savior of Hyrule through self-sacrifice on more than one occasion. Zelda fights in the way that only she can. Do you play her thought the game? No. You get to play as Link and I love that. I love who he is and how he grows and how he fights. But Zelda is no pushover. Actually, if you look at the games as a whole there is a collection of strong women who the fan base love. So Zelda wears pink or purple. So she usually has blonde hair. Honestly? It doesn’t even matter. Sure, I wish her final Windwaker wasn’t wrapped in Barbie-pink glowing ribbons in Hyrule Warriors and yes, it makes me enjoy that weapon less because of how it looks, but guess what? I’m a girl! I like things to be aesthetically pleasing! And that right there amuses me to no end.
Still, if you saw my figure dangling from my purse, you would have no idea of the true reason and meaning behind her. You see, she has nothing to do with the game, or my favorite character, or my opinion on girl warriors, or even my favorite color. She hangs there because of my boys. Confused? That makes me very happy, though if you’re a gamer mom you might also be wearing a smile right now, ’cause you can see where this is going. As moms, we tend to do things for our kids we could never do for ourselves. We can’t buy ourselves stuff, or make ourselves stuff or do stuff for ourselves that would come off as frivolous or wasteful or selfish. As a fan-girl and girl gamer, I could never buy myself a mascot or dangler or charm. I could before I had kids, but not after. I can’t let myself be accused of wasting the family’s funds on myself. Like ever. You get one person saying that one time, and it echoes in the back of your head forever. Every time you look at a new book, think about buying yourself a new lip balm, rip a hole in your jeans, you hear that echo. So when they had LoZ mascot figures for sale in random pouches, I bought some. Not for me. For the boys. See I have taught them well and they both like LoZ. I had no problem making my fan-girl and mom side happy by buying a couple for my boys.
When the boys excitedly tore into them, the eldest ended up with Link with a gust jar (very happy), the youngest got Vaati (but mom if you ever find Link with a Sword, could you get home for me? (Spoiler: yes and done)), there was a repeat Vaati (best friend got him), and then there was Zelda. So because I was trying to make my boys happy, I now wear a character from my favorite game on my purse. And even though Zelda is not the character I would have picked for myself, she makes me smile. Because as soon as she came out of the package the boys gave her to me.
So Sylanders. Raise your hand if after Trap Team you thought the ride was over. I mean they handed game three off to someone else who nearly wrecked the series, took it back for game four, but then allowed the main villain to be trapped, and turned good! I thought that with the poor sales from Trap Team, brought on by how poorly Swap Force was produced compared to the first two entries to the Skylander series, and with version 2.0 of Disney Infinity capitalizing on the Marvel wave, and with parents kind of throwing up their hands at how many dang characters were needed to be able to play everything in the game, while at same time having the bonus play for each character being minimized, well…frankly I thought they were giving up. And a big part of me was relieved. I have spent so much time chasing down Skylanders that it’s embarrassing. Being a fan-girl, coupled with the knowledge from the first game that each character actually added worthwhile gameplay, made me into an expert at tracking those buggers down in store. Because, believe me, there is no way I’m paying a scalper online three to five times the price of those little plastic toys. I mean they are cool, well done, have fun individual gameplay styles, are something tangible the kids play with outside the digital experience, but even with all that they are not worth the price of a whole other game.
So yeah, I was exhausted, in a happy though confused sort of way, from buying Skylanders and I was ready to give it up. I had successfully dodged the Disney Infinity bullet, but then along came Amiibos. Major face palm. I knew we would be getting some of those. I mean LoZ and Fire Emblem and Kid Icarus, oh we were in trouble. So I was pretty grateful that Skylanders was probably over. Sure we had rules in place to make it easier. We would not collect every single Skylander. The kids could only collect all the releases of their two favorite characters. I would make sure they had access to all chapters and all element types. If they wanted anything beyond that, they had to earn the cash for them. And they played, and continue to play, the snot out of those games. If they didn’t care then neither would I. I also knew that if Toys for Bob/Activision was going to do another game, it would be announced around now and would go on sale in early October, so that round two of the figures could be out for Christmas. But I wasn’t counting on seeing anything when the boys asked me to check a couple of nights ago.
Well guess what lovelies? There’s a game five. Say hi to Skylanders SuperChargers:
I showed the video to the boys and now they can’t stop speculating how Kaos gets out of the traptanium. And sadly (or not) the game looks cool. The vehicles look like fun; the toys actually have articulating parts. If your kids have the game, you probably play it about as much as I do (I see the kids play it so much, I rarely want to pick it up myself.) So what this really means for us M&Ds is how many toys do we need to collect. I have not seen much about how many series 2, 3, 4, or 5 Skylanders there will be, but there will 20 Skylanders paired with 20 vehicles. For those keeping count that means 2 sets for each element; yes they added two elements in Trap Team. And since each vehicle pairs with a certain Skylander for the best effect that means likely you will be needing access to at least twenty new NFC toys to get access to the full game. Or maybe not, we’ll have to see how it goes when the game comes out at the end of September. And I’m sure I will be seeing how it goes. The kids have already decided SuperChargers is what they are asking Santa for for Christmas.
Want an easy way to view all the Skylanders, try out this link:
School’s out in a couple of days for the kids. Which means having some kind of idea what the boys and I will do during the days of the lazy summer weeks. I have a basic plan. A general idea of when we should all get out of bed so we don’t get too far off of Dad’s schedule. A time of the day set aside for chores so the boys can keep learning work ethics and how to take care of themselves when they get dropped into the free fall of life and in the back of my head I add so their wives can be pleasantly surprised they know how to make hospital corners on their beds. We have swimming and water guns fights and camping planned. And crafts. Oh so many crafts. When you have one kid who’s got science on the brain and another who is amazing with fine motor skills and a mom who’s crafty/handsy, we do crafts to keep busy. And there’s Legos and robots and cars and books and science and yeah we have stuff. But it’s hot where we live so we spend a lot of time indoors hiding from the heat with the A/C on playing games. Which means, of course, worrying about how much video game time is too much. And trust me, I have read loads of literature and studies about how much gaming is ok for my kids before they become Lifeless Zombies of Button Mashingville.
So guys, here’s my basic take. It works for my kids and mine alone, because I’m the one managing it. I have neighbors and friends who have different takes for their kids. And it works for them! So I don’t touch their plans. Actually, I’m grateful when they explain their plans and reasonings and the outcomes of implementing them because it helps me keep looking at the plan for my kids with aware eyes. Recently my neighbor explained the effect of her plan to me. I knew she limited gaming to weekends so we could follow her kids rules when they come over, but she took the time to tell what had happened. She said that the change in her son was wonderful and from the sound of relief in her voice I could tell it was needed and welcome. Gaming had set up a cycle of frustration in her little guy that when limited to just weekend, gave time for him to cool down and recharge. I love that. And it gave me the opportunity to reconsider my own kids behavior and see if they need the same or a similar idea. And I think, perhaps, that is where we need to be looking. How long can our kids concentrate on one thing, one puzzle, one mind teaser until they get fed up and, as people do, then take that frustration out on the world to get it out of their systems. And really that can be for anything not just video games. I see more and more it being noted that in education kids get to a point when they just need to move their bodies. Isn’t that their frustration point? The point at which they need to step back, breathe, and then be ready for more? Call it a strategic retreat if you need to, but I think as adults we know that spot within ourselves, and we know that for different activities, different people that spot, that moment, is vastly different.
For me, I am almost always in the same room as the kids when they play their games. We have all the gaming set up in the living room and the boys play their 3DSs mostly in there as well. The other times are usually in the car on long road trips. Our TV spends more time playing video game feeds than TV or movies. Most of the games we have require some kind of brain process. I say most because we have racing games and fighting games too, but my two big rules on the games is clever first and no competition. There are a good many times when I game with the boys. I find it equivalent to playing a pen and paper game or a board game or even a card game, just we’re doing it digitally. Even if they are just watching me play or I am just watching them, we’re interacting. Sure, sometimes they are playing by themselves and I’ve snuggled up with a book upstairs, but you know how we mom’s are. We usually have one ear that never turns off. That is attuned to some kind of my kids aren’t cooperating with each other wavelength. I can tell when things are going south.
So what do I do when I go are going south? That’s my cue to give the kids a break. They could have been playing Skylanders cooperatively for a couple of hours. I’ll be assaulted with giggles and come this way and wait up and you change your element this time, I did it last time. And then it’ll change. Someone’s gotten frustrated or stopped helping or listening or cooperating. So I shut it down. Guys finish the level, the games going off for a while.
What happens next if often along the lines of, let’s make a sword and you can be so and so and we’ll go after…epic battle ensues with the brothers defeating the forces of evil. And then later in the day they are back to playing a different game perhaps together perhaps not. Some days it’s less than others some days it’s more, but for me, for my kids, this is what works.
“You should start a blog for all the other “gamer moms” out there that feel your pain.” Yup. There’s the start of it all, right there. I’m now a Gamer Mom. I had earned a new title, and a while ago at that, but until the moment my friend said that to me, I had been completely unaware.
We need to back up a bit. I’ve taken a lot of pride in being a gamer girl or a girl gamer, even though some see the name as derogatory, for me it was a badge. A mark of honor. A verbal or written symbol that I belonged, had a place, and a unique one at that in the gaming world. That I was cool for simply being the gender I was. Let’s be honest, that was refreshing in a world that often doesn’t even listen to you just because you’re a girl
Of course my path to being recognized as a girl gamer was long, windy, tortuous, fraught with pathos and ok so it was like most girls – I didn’t grow up gaming. Closest I got to it as a child was watching my honorary cousins play Atari. They had Space Invaders. We had Christmas at their house every other year. I got to play it a few times. I have memories of Pong and Pac Man and Duck Hunt, but we didn’t own a system, so the times I got to be around games was few and far between.
Such was my interaction with games until college. College was another matter. The boys dorms had kids who owned Sonic and Mortal Kombat. I watched a few times. I didn’t get to play sonic, but a couple of times I got to play Mortal Kombat. I vaguely remember beating the boys after I got the hang of it. I didn’t get to play much after that. You pick up quickly that it was a guy’s world and while I was allowed to watch and cheer them on, I wasn’t really going to be included. So I got a game boy. Played Tetris, Super Mario and my first Legend of Zelda game. I enjoyed them well enough, though I was a total newbie and the tiny green screen was hard to take. But no one could exclude me or take the game away, so I was able to gain a modicum of confidence about my ability to play a video game. I was introduced to Myst by a husband and wife who were friends of my parents. It had been out for a year or so and it seemed that girls often were among the group that played it. After I finished it, I was talking to a friend who was also playing it. He seemed surprised I finished it as he was still working on it. He asked me how long it took me and nearly spit when I told him. Apparently it was a really fast time. I played a lot of point and click adventures after that, my mind liked the puzzles. But I didn’t much talk about them with anyone. I didn’t want to inadvertently emasculate anyone again.
Somewhere during that time, I got married. And we bought a PS2, and then an X-Box and finally a Game Cube. I started to gobble up games. Jak and Daxter, Windwaker, DOA 3, Sly Cooper, Psychonauts, Final Fantasy 10, Oddworld, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Ico and so many others. I played more than my husband who up until then had played more games than I ever had. In my mind I had started identifying as a gamer, not someone who played games. Then came boy number one. I could continue to play a bit, but eventually we sold all the consoles – they no longer worked with a growing, social and curious little guy around.
In need of an outlet, and some human conversation, I got into MMORPGs. It was a strange experience. At first I didn’t speak as I was afraid to wake the baby and no one knew I was a girl because a fair amount of guys like to play as girl characters. Eventually it would become known and it was like I was suddenly granted unicorn status. Guys thought it was cool. And truely I was a bit of a rarity. I only met a few other girls. Boys would hardly believe me till I voice chatted in a mission and then I heard omg she IS a girl more than a few times. I became aware of the status factor of being a girl gamer. The people I played with wouldn’t have played with me if I was a poor player, but having a girl in the group definitely added something for the male players. Eventually the game I was playing sent out a new version and the vibe changed drastically. All the coolness factor of being a girl gamer was gone. Now it was more along the lines of being treated with skepticism like girls can’t play, and anger when I could do better than them. And there were a lot more girls, but they didn’t treat each other well. They wanted to be the only girl in the group of boys. I’d been there done that with girls in real life, including being THAT girl, and I wasn’t interested in trying to win over those kinds girls in a game. Or fight for the boys attention either. I already had all the male attention I needed. I dropped out of the online scene.
Which was fine because boy number two had shown up and boy number one was old enough to play games. So we went out and bought a Wii. All of a sudden I was all about showing the kids the best games. Playing with them; watching them play. When they were old enough, I introduced LoZ, and then we got a PS3 and a WiiU and the boys got 3DSs. All the time I was guiding them, cultivating in them a love of gaming, leading them to quality games and being delighted when they would ask me to help them solve a puzzle or beat a boss. Unconsciously or consciously, who can really tell, I was raising them to not have any kind of reaction to girl gamers. Instilling in them the knowledge that girls play just as much as boys and that they are both equally good at them. I hadn’t even realized I had morphed into a new kind of gamer. But I had.
I took the boys to Target one day and we were hanging out in the video game area as we were wont to do. There was another boy was hanging out in the games and as kids do they started talking about their favorite games while I wandered over to the next aisle. As they were talking about what they liked to play, the kid asked my guys who the gamer in the family was. Both boys turned and pointed at me and said “Our mom is.” The “cool!” look on that kid’s face made me feel the same kind of pride I used to feel being a girl gamer. But now I wasn’t just cool for being a girl, or being a girl gamer, I was cool for being my kid’s gaming mom.