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Guest Post: Let the Video Games Begin!

This is a guest blog post by Chris Dahlen. Chris is the editor-in-chief of Kill Screen Magazine ( ), a quarterly magazine and website devoted to games and culture. He lives in Portsmouth, NH with his wife and his six-year-old son. Chris contributes his advice on choosing videogames for the family as part of NFI's campaign Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night .

Videogames are fun for the whole family—but how often does a whole family play them? From the console in your living room to the computer in your home office, you can find hundreds of games that are more fun if you experience them together.

Some parents view videogames as an unhealthy alternative to playing catch, or visiting a museum. But in our home, videogames are the perfect wind-down after all those other activities. My son and I regularly end a busy day with a game that stretches our imaginations and challenges us to solve problems, follow instructions, and work as a team. (I’ve also found that nothing motivates good behavior like granting game privileges—or taking them away.)

Look for games that invite two or more players to work together. If you grew up with games like King’s Quest or Zork, try playing Machinarium: you and your child can split time on the keyboard and work together to beat each puzzle. In Portal 2’s “co-op” mode, you’ll work together to solve a series of obstacle courses that test your brains and your reflexes. Even if one of you takes the lead, the other still plays an important role in completing each challenge. Other games encourage parents to stand back and assist: in Super Mario Galaxy, the parent can use a second controller to assist the child and to point the way to the next goal.

Most of all, find games that are good. Skip the low-quality movie tie-in games, and look for excellent $10-15 downloadables like Costume Quest or Flower. Read reviews, and if there’s a free demo, try it out yourself: is this a game that will be challenging, but not frustrating? Does it encourage co-operative play? Is it too violent, or scary? (ESRB ratings are also your friend: stick with games that have an “E” or “E10” rating and be sure to read the tags, and you should never stumble into anything inappropriate.) Even when your kid plays a single-player game, make time to watch and give advice and moral support. Children only bury their faces in their Nintendo DS’s if you let them: stay involved and they’ll look forward to having you by their side.

Like birthday cake and late-night ghost stories, videogames should be enjoyed in moderation. But they should be enjoyed—and beaten—by the whole family. At a time when too many families find themselves staring at separate screens, lost in their own experiences, a great game can bring the whole living room together.

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from NFI Staff

NFI's theme for the month of August is Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night! We're encouraging families to play games with their families on Wednesday nights, or another night of the week that works best. We got some great suggestions for family games from our Facebook and Twitter followers. Now, check out some of NFI staff members' favorite games to play with their families:

Elaine, mom of one son, has a favorite game that is shared across three generations in her family.

When I was 11 years old, my family and I visited New Zealand. While we were there, we played a British board game called "Crosshand Poker." It's like scrabble, but you make poker hands instead of words. (No betting though!) We enjoyed playing it so much that we brought a copy of it back with us. Over the years, we have continued to play together and have even kept every score card. It is always a good reminder of the trip of a lifetime that we took together. In fact, just last year, I decided to order my own copy online to play with my husband -- unbeknownst to me that my mom had ordered me one at the same time! A great family tradition to pass along to my own son when he gets older!

For Roland, father of two sons, playing games is an opportunity not only for laughs, but life lessons.

I used to love playing "chutes and ladders" with my sons. They took great delight in watching me slide down by landing on the unfortunate spot. The game also offered an excellent life lesson. Sometimes you will encounter obstacles that can set you back due to no fault of your own. Nonetheless, you have to persevere and keep moving forward.

Evelyn, mom of three and NFI's resident ping pong champion, points out that playing games can have helpful physical benefits too!

An easy way to get in shape and have fun is through playing ping-pong. Not only does it increase the heart rate, it improves hand-eye coordination, and burns an average of 175 calories per hour! Children and adults of all ages enjoy ping-pong. Personally, it is an investment paid for itself through active playtime spent with my family.

Melissa shares about life lessons she learned from playing cards with her grandfather.

When I was young, and visited my grandparents in Ohio, my favorite game to play with my Pap was the card game "Crazy 8's". I wasn't all that good at it for many years, but he taught me how to improve my game, amidst my frustration of him winning most of the time. He always seemed to have just the right "last card" to lay down… and somehow I always seemed to be playing right into his hand. But as I got older, I began to play better, and I started beating Pap more often.

However, winning wasn’t really what mattered to most to me about those Crazy 8 games with Pap. It was the time he was spending with me, investing in teaching me how to master something like a card game, that mattered most. He was also teaching me the valuable thought processes of planning and logic, and how to think ahead in order to make wise decisions in advance of taking action.

Now that Pap is no longer with us, I will always remember the time with my Pap and those games of Crazy 8's quite fondly. And that its not just about winning the game.
Erik, dad of two daughters, likes playing games that involve creativity.

We play a drawing game where everyone gets a stack of small sheets of paper and writes down a phrase, movie, song title, etc. Everyone passes their phrase with the stack of paper to the person next to them. The next person reads it, places it at the bottom of the stack and then draws a representation of the phrase. Everyone passes their drawing to the person next to them to write a phrase they think represents the drawing. This continues until each person has their original phrase back. Everyone takes turns sharing their stack of paper and it’s hilarious to hear how the end phrase is nothing like it started out. We also have 2 people in our family who are good at drawing and 3 who are not so we laugh at the pictures too.

We also like to play a series of improvisation games. One is where the family agrees on a scene to act out using an interesting job and 2 players act out the scene while 2 others provide the sound effects. Another one is where the family comes up with a scene using a kind of movie (western, romance, science fiction, etc.) and 2 people act it out while a third person says “new choice” anytime they don’t like what the person says. Then that person has to change their phrase until that person lets them continue with the scene. We also do one where someone writes down silly phrases on slips of paper and gives it to the rest of the family. We pick a scene and pull out the slips of paper to read the phrase randomly throughout the scene. Not only do we laugh hysterically during the scenes, but it creates memories that last a lifetime.
What are some of your favorite games to play with your family? Do you have any special memories attached to those games? What life lessons do you teach your kids through playing games?

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from Dads & Moms - Part 2

During the month of August, NFI is encouraging dads and moms to make Wednesday night Family Game Night this month. Through our weekly Dad Email, we are providing suggestions of games for all ages and tips on how to make Family Game Night fun for all.

We asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers to tell us about their family's favorite games and we got an overwhelming response! We shared some of their stories here on The Father Factor last week. Check out the rest of their suggestions below and try some of these games at home with your kids!

  • We've had a Tuesday night "family night" for a couple of years now. We have played tons of different games, but two of the kids (10 & 11) favorites are a drawing contest (we do about five or six and the winner of each gets to pick the theme and winner of the next one) and plays (where two or three of us make up a play in about 10 or 15 minutes, then perform it for the other one or two).
  • With grown children we like Phase 10 and Sequence!
  • We sit around our dining room table and play Uno for the "Championship." The champion gets a kiss on the cheek from each loser. My two daughters and wife love the bragging rights and extra attention. :)
  • My girls and I enjoy geocaching. It is a great sport to get families outside and having fun. You use a hand held GPS to locate caches (i.e. boxes with a log book to sign and trinkets to trade) hidden by fellow cachers in fun and/or interesting places. Check it out at
  • Scrabble or any word game, helping the younger kids, allowing the dictionary until they get good enough to spell words on their own. Helps in building not only vocabulary and spelling skills but also healthy competitiveness and self-confidence. Some of the other word games could include Boggle, what we call fast Scrabble (now marketed as Bananagrams) where each person forms their own crossword puzzle with their Scrabble tiles, forming as many words as you can from a large word written on paper or a blackboard, etc
  • We love Twister - an oldie but a goodie!
  • I always loved the "alphabet game"...finding each letter of the alphabet in order from A to Z. first one wins! Played on a road trip to pass the time.
  • My daughter loves to play Minecraft with me. I love to build stuff and she loves hunting the monsters!
  • Table top role-playing games (like dungeons and dragons) because it encourages them to use their imagination.
  • Favorite family games are twister, Star Wars Monopoly, and Cadoo!
  • My daughter and I love to make forts! Turning the kitchen table chairs around and draping blankets off the sides of the table make a perfect start for dining room creative construction.
Thanks so much to all our Facebook friends and Twitter followers who shared their family memories and told us about the games their kids love to play! Hopefully these ideas and the ones shared last week inspire you to Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face on for Family Game Night Fun! Tell us how it goes on Facebook - we'd love to hear from you!

Let the Games Begin! Ideas from Dads & Moms - Part 1

This week, NFI kicked off a new campaign called Let the Games Begin: Get Your Game Face On for Family Game Night Fun! We are encouraging dads (and moms too!) to make Wednesday nights during the month of August Family Game Night and play a game with their kids. Through our weekly Dad Email, we will be providing suggestions for games to play with kids of all ages and tips for engaging kids in family game time. (If you're not already receiving the Dad Email, you can sign-up by clicking here.)

We started the Let the Games Begin! campaign by asking our Facebook friends and Twitter followers - dads and moms across the country - to tell us about their family's favorite games to play. We got a ton of great ideas - so many, in fact, that I have to split this into two separate blog posts to share everything! Take a look what they shared with us and try some of these ideas with your family:
  • Oh, man. My family is super competitive and we love words, so we have a traditional Scrabble tournament at Thanksgiving that usually lasts 2-3 days...we pair up in brackets and winners play winners. Pre-set family rules apply: 1) one dictionary for the entire tournament, 2) 9 letters per person, 3) timed 3 minute turns. :)
  • Dance Central on the X-box. Gets the kiddos off the couch and moving around. Also gives them a chance to laugh at their old man as he tries to dance.
  • My boys love completing stories. For example, I'll make up a beginning, then my oldest will add some details, then the youngest goes and so forth. It gets their creative juices flowing and it's fun to see how differently their minds work.
  • Monopoly - My daughter recently got into the facebook game and so we started playing the original board game. Thanks for all you do for fathers, we appreciate it so much! I find it is hard to have a network of single fathers that can work together to find ways to enhance relationships with our children. Thank you again!
  • We have an annual Family Fishing Derby. Kids vs Dad. Winner gets ice cream on the way home.
  • My dad would always take me outside after dinner and play HORSE in our makeshift basketball court, aka, the driveway. Not only did it keep us active, but it allowed us to talk for an hour or so before the sun came down. I felt comfortable telling him anything, and he knew everything that was going on in my life.
  • I have 2 little girls, 5 & 8. We have tons of outdoor activities at our house (playhouse, sprinkler, trampoline) and several indoor activities (board games, legos, wii, etc.) but the thing everyone laughs the hardest at and enjoys the most is the Balloon game. Just blow up a balloon lay on the floor and don't let it hit the ground. That's it!
  • Mine are 7, 4, and 2. They are nuts for hide and seek. I will try the balloon game. Thx 4 the idea.
  • Apples to Apples byMattel - really FUN during the "defend your answer" part of the game. Kids LOVE as do parents.
Stay tuned for a blog post next week with the rest of their ideas. If you have a game that your kids enjoy playing with you, tell us about it by posting on our Facebook wall and I'll include it!

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