Gaming in our family is not "Here's an iPad, go play because we need you to be occupied for a while." It's "Let’s sit down and pick up where we left off in this grand adventure that we're sharing together."
Welcome to “#DadWins”, a new series where fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. This week, Matt Silverman, the YouTuber behind Free Dad Videos and father of a 4-year-old girl explains how he found some bonding time with his daughter in the land of Hyrule.
My 4-year-old daughter Amelia and I love playing video games together. Importantly, gaming in our family is not “Here’s an iPad, go play because we need you to be occupied for a while.” It’s “Let’s sit down and pick up where we left off in this grand adventure that we’re sharing together.”
My time is valuable, so I only want to play great games that have deep mechanics or storylines. My daughter’s screen time is limited, so I would much rather play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with her than zone out in front of a cartoon — and so would she.
Video games, just like any other media, are not created equally. Sesame Street is more enriching than Power Rangers, Minecraft is more enriching than Candy Crush. I only play games with my daughter that I genuinely want to play myself. She feeds off of my enjoyment, so I’m ecstatic to see when has a revelation like “Whoa! If we find this key, we can unlock this door, and then there’s a whole new area to explore.” Seeing her experience that is what I love about video games.
Our gaming sessions are anything but passive. When we play together, we talk about the choices we make in the game, like where to explore, what powers to use, what outfits to wear, or what recipes to cook. She’s only four years old and just starting to recognize words, so I’m constantly reading story dialogue to her.
She becomes engrossed in the mechanics of the games and will often suggest strategies or ideas that make a lot of sense. She often solves puzzles I don’t immediately see the solution to, or suggests a shortcut I wouldn’t normally take. Seeing her mind work this way is amazing to me.
Breath of the Wild is our favorite, and the game is filled with mechanical puzzles that take a while to figure out. Being a tired dad at the end of the day, I don’t always see the solutions immediately, but Amelia will often say something like, “Daddy, I have a great idea. Why don’t you just drop a treasure chest on the button?”
And I’m like, “Haha, OK, but … wait a minute. That’s totally the answer!”
The games keep going even after we turn off the console — they are a means of perpetual engagement with my daughter. Since we love open-world games with a rich narrative, we talk about our adventures when we’re not playing. At dinner, walking to school, at bedtime, I give her updates on how our cows and chickens are doing in the farming simulator Stardew Valley, or the latest alien worlds I visited in No Man’s Sky.
Another bonus: These worlds give her a great place to “go” when she’s upset. If she’s throwing a tantrum, I can immediately start talking about something exciting we found in Zelda and it quickly turns her mood around. Any parent can tell you that that’s a huge win.
These games have become a special thing that we share together. Mom enjoys Mario Kart every now and then, but Amelia and I like to go deep on sophisticated games. They are way more exciting than talking back to Dora the Explorer, but don’t get me wrong: she watches Dora, Care Bears, Sesame Street, and so on, but there’s nothing to talk about when the show’s over.
I asked her today, “What’s your favorite thing about playing video games together with me?” She answered without hesitation: “Because I love you!”
–as told to Dylan Love
Matt Silverman is the creator of Free Dad Videos, a web series starring his two kids.
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