As a parent and gamer, I’m always watching the kids to see if they are near the tipping point of too much gaming, not enough real life time. While I know that gaming has many benefits for them, I also believe in a balance between gaming, reading, outdoor activities, crafting/project making, hanging with their friends etc. There comes a point at which the gaming is no longer being productive, where they have crossed the line from purposeful gaming, like solving puzzles, facing difficult enemies, persevering through failed attempts, learning rhythm and timing, and so on, into what in this house we call “mooking about”. Mooking about in real life is awesome. It might look like laying in the grass and watching the sky or playing Lego battles between the Ice Queen and the Forest Elves or drawing pictures of new sword ideas. Mooking about in a game, however, is one of the big signs that for my kids video game time is done.
There are a lot of games which allow non-productive gameplay, the worst offenders being sandbox games and open world games. If a game doesn’t give you a goal, or gives you the possibility of hanging out in the game without needing to be working towards something, then my mom feelers go up. Sometimes this results in an outright ban of the game (Minecraft and Lego Worlds for example). This does not mean that those games don’t have merit, it just means that I know, KNOW, I’ll be having to police the game and the mooking about behavior more than it’s worth. Other times it means that I’m on high alert when the kids are playing the game to make sure they are enjoying the game, being productive in the game, and that the game is not being used to keep boredom at bay. There is a huge difference between enjoying a game and mindlessly playing a game. It looks similar to when you are enjoying a TV show versus when you are watching TV and nothing good is on, but you keep watching anyways.
I find it’s usually with Boyo #2 that I have to be careful of this behavior. It often looks like this:
- In Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild trying to attack the villagers and other friendly NPCs just to see how they react or non-quest shield surfing down the same area over and over again.
- In Garden Warfare 2 it looks like him just running around the main world without going on any missions.
- In Lego Dimensions it also looks like him attacking random characters for no purpose or wandering around worlds without accomplishing anything.
When I see him starting this kind of behavior in a game, he gets a warning to get back on track with a mission, or a goal, or a quest. If he continues the mooking, it’s game over, shut the system down, go do something else. Your tech time is up.
Until he can learn his cues himself for when he is no longer actually playing the game he is in, I will help him set his boundaries. And they will be useful boundaries that directly relate to his behavior and how the game is making him feel and act. Very few times will I set a boundary based on time. Yes, there are times I do use time as a boundary, but as he grows into an adult, I want him to be able to react to other cues. I want him to be able to sense when he is needing to put the game down because he is done with it for now. I want him to recognize when he needs a break because the game has him frustrated as well as when he needs a break because the game has him bored. If I can help him learn those cues, he can have a great life as a gamer.