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Families at PlayConnecting and Learning through Video Games$

Sinem Siyahhan and Elisabeth Gee

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780262037464

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262037464.001.0001

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Developing a Learning Culture through Gaming

Developing a Learning Culture through Gaming

(p.109) 5 Developing a Learning Culture through Gaming
Families at Play

Sinem Siyahhan

Elisabeth Gee

The MIT Press

Abstract and Keywords

In this chapter, we expand upon Seymour Papert’s notion of “learning culture”. Specifically, we describe how the traditional expert-novice relationship between parents and children has changed over the last decade with children taking the role of an expert when it comes to technology. We propose that successful participation in 21st century for children starts with collaborative intergenerational experiences at home around technology, and video gaming in particular is a promising context for parents and children to work as partners and develop the dispositions that can be “transfer” to other contexts (e.g. workplace).

Keywords:   Family learning culture, families as communities of practice, gaming as a family routine and ritual, forms of family engagement around video games

My bottom line was that parents should recognize the need to build new kinds of relationships with their children and should see the computer as a vehicle for building, rather than as an obstacle to, family cohesion. Parents should spend less time worrying about what the kids are doing or are not doing with computers and more time trying to find common interests or projects to do together.

These are the words of Seymour Papert in his book The Connected Family: Bringing the Digital Generation Gap, published in 1996.1 As a visionary, prominent scholar, and prolific writer, Papert has had a great influence on our thinking about children, computing, and learning. He is primarily known for his design and study of the LOGO programming language for children and for his learning theory, constructionism. Expanding Jean Piaget’s constructivist theory of learning, which suggests children learn through building internal mental models (or representations) of their experiences in the world, Papert argues that children also build these models through making public artifacts or tangible objects, ranging from sand castles to video games.2 He introduces programming as a tool for children to develop mathematical thinking in the process of creating meaningful products that are visible to others.

What is less known about Papert are the ideas he introduced in The Connected Family about the relationship between families and technology, ideas that were ahead of their time. In this chapter, we revisit his work because we believe his ideas are relevant to the discussion of families and video games, and yet to be realized in our society. Specifically, we discuss the concept of a family learning culture and how it applies to understanding the role of video games in family life. We describe how the traditional expert-novice relationship between parents and children has dramatically changed over the last decade, with children taking on the role of expert when it comes to technology. We propose that, for children, successful participation in the twenty-first century starts with (p.110) intergenerational play experiences at home around technology, and video gaming in particular can be a promising context for parents and children to work as collaborative partners and develop skills that can transfer to other contexts (such as the workplace). Finally, we discuss four different forms of family engagement with video games that we believe support the formation and cultivation of a family learning culture at home.

Family Learning Culture

Traditionally, parents are positioned as “guides” when it comes to children’s use of technology and are viewed as playing a key role in cultivating children’s interests and learning around technology. However, Papert suggests that children’s enthusiasm for and interest in computers can be a basis not only for children’s learning but also for a family learning culture, shifting the focus of technology’s potential from the individual child to the family as a unit. He defines family learning culture as “a family’s way of thinking about learning—its beliefs, preferred activities and traditions associated with learning.”3 A family learning culture is based on mutual respect and family members’ understanding of shared ideas and norms as well as divergences and disagreements.

“The relationship between the computer and the family learning culture is a two-way street,” says Papert.4 The family learning culture influences how computers are used at home, and computer use has an impact on the family learning culture. The different ways families approach computers can amplify or undermine learning for all family members. Papert argues that parents already use strategies to support and help a family learning culture grow around movies and books. These strategies include consuming and talking about these media together with their children, as well as expressing appreciation for and criticizing them. He observes that it has been more challenging for parents to implement this breadth of strategies around computers, and there has been more resistance and critique from parents around computers than acceptance and participation. In the more than twenty years since Papert’s book was published, parental attitudes toward computers have become more accepting, but his advice about incorporating new technologies into a family learning culture remains relevant.

Papert sees breaking away from traditional conceptions of parental roles as a key aspect of forming and maintaining a family learning culture. He states: “One thing I’ve been saying over and over again is that parents should learn from their kids. Of course kids should learn from parents. I say this less often because everyone knows that. But the (p.111) point is that it goes both ways.”5 Indeed, parents’ roles as “teachers” and “experts” have been a primary area of research in psychology, learning sciences, and education. We know that parents support their children’s learning in a wide variety of ways. They provide emotional support to their children around difficult tasks in the form of encouragement and praise, which greatly contributes to children’s sense of competence and confidence.6 They use prompts, questions, and hints to guide their children’s thinking around problem-solving tasks to help them become independent problem solvers and self-guided learners.7 Parents model ways of thinking and doing through providing explanations, setting goals, and monitoring progress around shared activities.8 They also support their children’s learning through brokering learning experiences for their children.9 Involving their children in school and after-school activities and acquiring material resources that they believe will enhance their children’s learning, such as books and computers, are only a few examples of the support parents provide to their children. Research suggests that parental engagement and support during the early years and beyond contributes greatly to children’s academic success in school and their positive socio-emotional development.10 Through a variety of strategies, parents help children develop knowledge, dispositions, and habits that are foundational to children’s future learning and participation in society.

Parents play a crucial role as their children’s first teachers. However, defining family interactions and their relation to learning solely through this lens is limiting in the twenty-first century. Such conceptualizations ignore the dynamic and evolving nature of family relations over time, as well as the societal and material conditions that shape and influence these relations. What do we mean by this? We often forget that parents do not stop learning once they have children; they continue to grow, learn, and evolve as individuals, and parenting in particular provides many opportunities for learning. When taking on the role of teacher, parents also learn about themselves and their children during their interactions. In addition, children develop more complex cognitive skills as they grow older that allow them to participate more competently in adult tasks such as cooking, competitive sports, and so forth. For example, a child who is interested in cooking might first participate in this task by watching his mother cook. By the time he is seven years old, he starts helping his mother cook by taking on simpler aspects of the task under her guidance, such as measuring ingredients. And when he is thirteen, he is able to cook a meal for the entire family by himself, at which point the parent and the child may participate in cooking as colearners. The child might discover (p.112) a new recipe or cooking technique that he in turn can share with his mother, adding to her repertoire of cooking knowledge and skills.

Furthermore, children develop interests and expertise at an early age in domains that are different from those of their parents. For instance, a child who is interested in dinosaurs at the age of four may develop her expertise through playing with dinosaur toys, visiting museums with her parents, having books about dinosaurs read to her, and watching television shows about dinosaurs. As she grows older her sustained interest in dinosaurs motivates her to read books about dinosaurs on her own, research dinosaurs online, and do school projects about dinosaurs. By the time she is nine years old, she is more knowledgeable about the topic of dinosaurs than her parents are; they have supported their daughter’s interest throughout the years but are not necessarily invested in developing their own expertise about dinosaurs. When scientists announce the discovery of a new type of dinosaur, the daughter may be the one who explains the significance of this discovery to her parents.

In addition to these developmental and domain-related trends that make the expert-novice roles between parents and children more fluid than we would normally think, the social and material conditions of families’ lives also challenge the construction of parents as more knowledgeable than others in the family. In many immigrant households in the United States in which parents speak a language other than English, children support their parents in navigating the difficulties of living in a new country.11 Children tend to acquire language proficiency in English and adopt American cultural norms much more quickly than their parents do. They often mediate their parents’ experiences through interpretation and translation. For instance, children translate documents from school for their parents, help them navigate legal and medical issues, and provide care for their younger siblings.12

Likewise, Papert notes that the entry of computers and game consoles into family homes may disrupt traditional parental roles if children become more adept and dexterous than their parents at using technology. These technologies have different affordances than television, namely interactivity and connectivity, and they influence expert-novice relationships between parents and children in different ways. Our assumptions about children’s cognitive abilities are also challenged by children’s creative ways of using these technologies. Just because children are more adept does not mean that they have nothing to learn from their parents while using these technologies. In fact, the widespread availability of computers and game consoles presents exciting new opportunities for family connection, (p.113) communication, and learning that come about with the changing and dynamic nature of parent-child relations that have the potential to benefit all family members in the twenty-first century.

The Twenty-First-Century Landscape

Developing a family learning culture is increasingly important to the success and well-being of children and adults in the twenty-first century. The current workforce landscape looks drastically different from what it looked like twenty years ago. Today, employers are looking to hire people with “soft skills,” which include interpersonal and communication skills, as well as personal traits such as adaptability and self-motivation.13 They rank the ability to learn new things, critical thinking, and problem solving as top competencies in their employees. By the same token, the ability to effectively collaborate with others is increasingly becoming a necessary skill for success in the workplace. In a digital, networked, and constantly changing world, expertise is distributed across time, places, people, and tools.14 The ability to exchange ideas, knowledge, and resources with others is fundamental to utilizing our collective intelligence for innovation and solving the complex problems our society faces.15

A diverse workplace includes employees from several generations—baby boomers, Generation X-ers, and Millennials—each bringing drastically different experiences with technology to the job. Many have written and commented on the changing dynamics in the workplace as Millennials entered the workforce.16 The different expectations, values, and styles each generation brings to the workplace can be an asset as well as a challenge when employees struggle to effectively communicate and collaborate. The rigid corporate hierarchies created by baby boomers are breaking down, and in some workplaces they no longer exist.17 In today’s workplace, a thirty-year-old managing a forty-five-year-old employee is not uncommon. Furthermore, in today’s multigenerational workforce, the Millennials have an advantage over previous generations with respect to the high demand for workers with technology skills. Beyond generational differences in approaches to work, the workplace has changed in the last two decades as a result of globalization, advancement in technology, and the emergence of new organizational models created to drive innovation and sustain the competitive edge of the United States.18

While the adults who are currently in the workforce are learning to adapt to these changes, schools are trying to find ways to support children in developing the skills to successfully participate in the twenty-first-century (p.114) workforce. Schools emphasize problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and strategic thinking—collectively referred to as “twenty-first-century skills” in education—as much as, if not more than, content learning.19 The skills that adults need to exercise in the workplace are the same skills that children are expected to develop in schools. According to Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, the twenty-first century is about learning to embrace change and figuring out how to get most out of it.20 They suggest that both adults and children can use play as a strategy for dealing with change and adapting to the new demands of the world. The constantly changing world has also resulted in a new culture of learning that Thomas and Brown describe as embedded in everyday social interactions in communities, intertwined with the identities people develop, driven by shared interests and passions, and propelled by digital media technologies.

We believe play is an important aspect of cultivating a family learning culture. While there are many forms of play involving digital media, video games are an especially powerful medium that families can leverage to develop skills that are valued in the twenty-first century. The successful participation of adults and children in the new learning culture starts with the creation of a family learning culture around digital media at home. As we have discussed in previous chapters, families exchange ideas, collaborate, solve problems, negotiate identities, share interests, and learn from each other through intergenerational play around video games. All of these skills that families build around video games resemble what parents would do at work and children would do in schools. Social interactions around video games among family members at home can be a vehicle for both parents and children to deal with change and develop skills that are important in the twenty-first century.

Families as Communities of Practice

Although as a society we have begun to reimagine the workplace, schools, and learning as a result of the rapid changes we are experiencing in the twenty-first century, we have yet to do the same with respect to how we think about families in the digital age. One obstacle we foresee in developing a family learning culture that is aligned with the demands of today’s society is the traditional notion of parent-child relations, in which expertise is attributed to and conceptualized as the domain of parents. As Papert pointed out two decades ago, parents have just as much to learn from their children as children have to learn from their parents. This could not be truer in this day and age, when children are the ones keeping (p.115) up with constantly changing technology and using it to learn, connect, and collaborate with others. We believe a better conceptualization of the expert-novice relations between parents and children in the twenty-first century is through the lens of communities of practice (CoP).

In their book Situated Learning, Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger propose that learning is a process of moving from being a newcomer to an old-timer in a community of practice.21 They describe a community of practice as “a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice,” suggesting that we belong to multiple communities at home, school, and work at any given time.22 Our membership and participation may vary across different communities of practice. For instance, we might be a newcomer in one community and a central member in another. Communities of practice share three qualities: (1) members of the community engage in a joint enterprise, meaning the relationships between the members of a community are organized around shared activities in which they participate; (2) members share a social (or group) identity as members belonging to a community; and (3) there is a shared repertoire of communal resources, including routines, rituals, artifacts, vocabulary, and styles that members have developed over time. Overall, members of a community of practice share ways of doing, thinking, and approaching things in the world.

The CoP framework has been used in schools, corporations, and nonprofits to facilitate collaboration, learning, and organizational change.23 People in many different work settings collaborate with one another to achieve a set of shared goals. However, what separates the formal team or group work that takes place in many organizations from a community of practice is that while team members disperse and move on to other problems once a task or a project is completed, a community of practice is sustained over time around a shared interest, enterprise, or passion. Another difference is that people who belong to a community of practice are self-selected, while those who work in teams typically are assigned or obligated to work in a group as a job requirement. The focus in a community of practice is on learning together, advancing individual and group capabilities, and improving a practice or domain, not merely completing a task.24 For instance, language arts teachers who are required by the school principal or district to participate in monthly professional development workshops do not comprise a community of practice. However, language arts teachers who get together three times a week during lunch to exchange ideas, resources, and best practices and reflect on how to improve their teaching make a community of practice.

(p.116) Scholars also use the CoP framework to understand player interactions in multiplayer online games and virtual worlds, such as World of Warcraft.25,26 Players are often introduced to the game—either by watching someone else play or through an invitation to play with someone they know—as a “legitimate peripheral participant,” to use Lave and Wenger’s term. Often, an experienced player in the virtual world takes the beginner player under their wing, which may take the form of showing the player around, taking over difficult tasks, and modeling actions in the virtual world. We saw this happen with Carol Morgan, the single mother of two interviewed in chapter 2. She started playing WoW with her friends and colleagues who introduced her to the game, and later she taught her son, Alex, how to play, helping him develop expertise by structuring his participation in the game.

As players spend more time in the game, they slowly learn how to manage resources (money, gear, spells, etc.) and better perform their role when collaborating with other players to accomplish a shared goal. For instance, when a beginner plays as a healer, they might struggle to figure out when and how to heal other players during a battle, but over time become more effective in their role as the healer and better coordinate with others during battles. The process of evolving from a legitimate peripheral participant into a full participant in the community involves players developing their identities, understandings, and competencies as members of the community.27

A marker of learning is a player’s ability to assume more central roles in the community. As players develop expertise, they become mentors for others who are newcomers to the community. They also take on leadership roles such as becoming leader of a guild (a group of players that play together), engaging in combat against other players (as opposed to fighting against nonplayer characters programmed by the game), and organizing raids (groups of players working together to defeat a powerful enemy). These roles require not only the ability to play competently but also the ability to monitor and provide guidance to others for the group to succeed as a collective—qualities of an expert player or a full participant in the community. These are some of the practices followed and roles assumed by Alex Morgan when playing as his level 100 character in WoW.

Families “with their own practices, routines, rituals, artifacts, symbols, conventions, stories, and histories” are one of the most important communities of practice in which children participate.28 Family members as a community share a social identity that gives them a sense of belonging and pride in being a participant in the group. Fundamentally, it is (p.117) love and caring toward one another that unites family members and supports a group identity that the individual members draw their own identities from. Relationships between family members are organized around shared activities, routines, and rituals such as eating, doing household chores, watching television, shopping, vacationing, and playing video games. During these shared everyday activities, family members interact with one another and learn together.

The interactions among family members around video games in the Perez household demonstrate how families are communities of practice. Members of the Perez family participated in all kinds of shared activities around video games: they watched each other play video games, played video games together, talked about games, and searched online for information about different games. Felipe was a central participant in the community because of his knowledge and expertise as well as the roles and responsibilities he assumed in the community around video games. Amelia, the youngest child of the family, was a legitimate peripheral participant in the community. Her knowledge and skills were those of a novice gamer compared to her father and her brothers. In the Perez family, expertise around video games was passed from one generation to the next, with Felipe Perez, the father, modeling ways of thinking and learning around video games to his eldest son, Daniel, who then modeled it for his siblings. For example, Daniel introduced the game Wizard 101 and Minecraft to Matias, and they frequently played these games together until Daniel moved on to playing more complex games with his father. Amelia then began playing these games with Matias, who had more expertise with these games than she did.

A difference between families and other communities of practice is that while membership is informal and self-selected in other communities, children’s participation in the family is not voluntary. Although they can choose how and when to participate when they become adults, children are born into the family community. Another potential point of divergence is that typically communities of practice are organized around one primary joint endeavor or domain. Schools are communities of practice organized around the shared endeavor of supporting the education of children. A field of study can also be conceptualized as a community of practice in which people are organized around the endeavor of generating knowledge in a domain, such as medicine, philosophy, engineering, or the humanities. World of Warcraft players comprise a community of practice when their gameplay is organized around shared language, practices, tools, and histories. In each of these three cases, a new member goes (p.118) through an enculturation process wherein they adopt the community’s ways of thinking, doing, and being while contributing to knowledge generation around the domain.

Parents are also old-timers in the civic community of practice that we call “society.” They work, vote, pay taxes, and engage in other activities expected of members of society. Children are newcomers; when they are born, they know nothing about how to behave, approach, or think. They develop skills, competencies, beliefs, values, practices, and identities as they move from being a legitimate peripheral participant to a full participant in society with the support of their parents. This is how Barbara Rogoff describes children’s cognitive development and learning in her seminal work Apprenticeship in Thinking.29 She refers to the process as “guided participation,” in which children develop new skills and competencies through their participation in socially valued activities with parents and other more knowledgeable and experienced peers. As children develop independence and autonomy over time, they need less assistance from others to successfully participate in society. This is consistent with the traditional view of parent-child expert-novice relationships in which parents are more knowledgeable than others in the relationship and are the primary agents of socializing children into different practices and teaching them how to behave in the world.

However, families interact and participate in shared activities around multiple domains or joint endeavors in which family members (adults, children, or both) move from being peripheral participants to full participants. While adults are full participants compared to children when we consider the broader society as a community of practice, they may be peripheral participants in other domains. As we have demonstrated throughout this book, parents, children, or both can be experts in the domain of video games. In addition, we mentioned previously that each of us can participate in multiple and at times overlapping communities of practice, and we may take on different roles in each community. Thus, Alex, through his participation in a wider World of Warcraft community of practice, surpassed his mother Carol in his expertise and identification with that community. Alex still needed support and guidance from Carol to navigate the demands of daily life, but when playing WoW, he was a full participant on his own.

In summary, we believe that thinking about families as communities of practice offers a more nuanced and complex way of understanding how learning occurs in family life, including around video games. Our framework takes into account the notion that families are dynamic systems (p.119) that change over time, not just mechanisms for funneling sociocultural knowledge, beliefs, dispositions, and values to children. Conceptualizing families as communities of practice helps us to better understand the multigenerational aspect of learning, working, collaborating, networking, and connecting in the twenty-first century.

Gaming as a Family Routine and Ritual

Routines and rituals play an important role in engaging members of a community of practice in joint activities that are meaningful to the community and reinforce collective identity. Like other communities of practice, family activities also include routines and rituals. According to Barbara Fiese and her colleagues, rituals organize family activities and help families find structure and meaning as a collective unit.30 The terms “routine” and “ritual” are often used interchangeably; however, there is a difference between the two. Both routines and rituals occur naturally in the flow of family life. Routines refer to repeated mundane activities that families do without much thinking, related to instrumental aspects of human communication. Rituals, like routines, are also repeated activities, but they have symbolic meanings for families that promote a sense of belonging and tradition as well as a group identity. They are often continued across generations, and a lack of continuity in such rituals threatens family cohesion and closeness. Routines have pragmatic value in the sense of getting something done, while rituals have sentimental value in family life.

To clarify the use of the two terms, Fiese and her colleagues discuss how mealtime can be both a routine and a ritual. A mealtime routine involves such actions as picking up ingredients from the grocery store or designating someone to set the table. These actions may be repeated several times a week without much thought and meaning beyond the goal of preparing family dinners. A mealtime ritual, however, involves family conversations about different topics and particular styles of interactions during mealtime. For instance, a mealtime ritual might involve parents starting conversation at the dinner table on weeknights by sharing their own experiences at work that day. This is a ritual that parents initiate to model family norms and the style of interactions around the dinner table. It is important to note that any routine can become a ritual once a repeated activity has a special meaning for the family as a group.

As with mealtimes, playing video games can also be a routine or a ritual within the family. A game routine involves families playing video games together a couple of times per week to kill time between activities. For (p.120) instance, they might turn on their Xbox for thirty minutes before dinner, or pick up their phones while waiting at the doctor’s office. Family members do not put much thought into their gameplay, and the activity does not have a special meaning for them. It has a practical purpose of keeping family members busy. Conversely, a game ritual involves symbolic meanings and identities that families construct, reconstruct, and deconstruct collectively around video games. The cases we shared in chapter 2 are good examples of how gaming can be a ritual in the context of families.

In the Livingstone and Morgan households, playing video games organized family life. These families connected with other family members, specifically siblings and cousins who lived far away, by scheduling a time to play together during weekends. Family members carved out time and space from other activities and obligations to get together and play video games. Playing video games together with family members brought about positive feelings and promoted a sense of closeness. What made playing video games a ritual in these two families, as well as in the Perez and Contreras families, is that the activity was carried out across generations—parents played video games when they were growing up and continued playing video games with their own children as adults. Gaming had the symbolic meaning of “this is what we do and value as a family.” Family members shared a collective as well as an individual identity of “gamer” around video games. These families had vivid memories of social interactions that took place while playing video games, and what those interactions meant for the relationship between family members and their shared history.

The Gastelum family demonstrated clearly how a family routine around video games can become a ritual. The family gaming routine in the Gastelum household involved Hector coming home from work, giving his cell phone to his sons, and watching them play for thirty to sixty minutes before dinner a couple of times a week. However, this routine became a ritual because of the emotions it evoked among family members and the meaning it carried for those involved. Both Hector and his sons looked forward to the repeated activity of playing video games because it meant that they spent time together as father and sons. Furthermore, playing video games was not perceived as “killing time” before dinner, but a way for Hector to connect with his children.

Transforming a gaming routine to a ritual can play an important role in cultivating a family learning culture. A gaming routine, whether it is a routine for the individual child or the family, establishes the regularity of playing video games in the context of family life. As a routine, playing video games becomes a natural part of family life, like eating dinner, going to the (p.121) movies, watching sports, and other activities family members do alone and together. Playing video games is already a routine in many families in the United States. National surveys suggest that almost all children play video games, and companies such as Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are targeting families to market their video gaming devices and developing “family-friendly” games to engage the whole family in playing video games. Many parental monitoring practices around video games support a gaming routine for children. For instance, parents reinforce rules, examples being that children can only play video games after they complete their homework and before dinner, or that their time spent gaming is limited on a daily or weekly basis.31 However, these practices alone do not support the formation of a family learning culture. The act of playing video games needs to move beyond a family routine and become a family ritual—a meaningful part of family life that enriches family experiences.

Forms of Engagement to Support Family Learning Culture

Families can transform a gaming routine into a ritual by being more mindful and intentional about how they engage with and around video games together. First and foremost, parents must broaden their perspective on video games to realize the opportunities for family learning, connection, and communication around video games. They need to not only be aware of and take measures to address safety issues regarding video games but also actively participate in gaming alongside their children. In this section, we identify four different forms of family engagement with video games that we believe support the formation and cultivation of a family learning culture at home. These different forms of family engagement influence how video games are taken up in the context of home, and in return the kind of impact video games have on the family learning culture. We briefly summarize each type of engagement, and then move on to a more detailed discussion of specific examples and strategies to support each type.

The first form of family engagement is watching children play video games. From “skeptics” to “gamers,” many parents watch their children play video games. Furthermore, watching someone else play video games (someone who is more knowledgeable about and skilled at the game) is one of the first things people do as novices to learn how to play a new game. We will discuss how watching can be an entry point to constructing meaningful joint gaming experiences for families, and the types of questions that parents can ask so as to engage in discussions with their children that are mutually beneficial to both parties.

(p.122) The second form of family engagement is actually playing video games together as a family. Many parents with whom we spoke reported difficulty with using the controllers and getting their children teach them how to play games. Others faced challenges in starting conversations with their children while playing games. Later, we provide a list of strategies with which families can experiment when they play video games together. These strategies focus on increasing collaboration among family members during gameplay.

The third form of family engagement involves aligning family gaming practices at home with the online practices of the wider gaming community. Participating in the online gaming community broadens all family members’ opportunities for learning as they engage in a different set of activities outside of the games that enhance their learning. It also connects families with other people who share their interests and can be resources for them.

Last, we discuss creating video games together as a family as a form of engagement around video games, and how this practice plants the seed for other kinds of learning that may seem out of reach for families (e.g., coding) and helps families connect with people in their local communities through making.

Watching Children Play Video Games

We tend to think about “watching” as a passive activity that requires minimal mental effort unless a person is watching an expert do something to learn from them. For instance, watching television is considered to be inconsequential or even harmful because we assume that the person is not actively engaged, whereas watching someone else tie their shoes when you are learning how to tie yours is considered beneficial because you need to pay attention to the procedure and actively process what you are observing to execute the steps and tie your own shoes. What makes watching more or less active is the intention of the viewer. Watching television can be beneficial depending on the viewer’s motives. If the motive is to learn something about a topic, then watching television is as valuable as watching someone tie their shoes.

The same is true for parents watching their children play video games. They can either watch their children mindlessly (or because they are worried about the game content and the time spent gaming) or with an intention to facilitate their children’s learning as well as learn from them. This form of engagement—which is referred to as “coviewing” around (p.123) television, and involves parents having conversations with their children while watching television shows with them—can lay the foundation for a learning culture to flourish. As we discussed in chapter 3, learning is not simply the acquisition of knowledge but a process of meaning making by which people negotiate and construct their understanding of the world and various situations, events, experiences, identities, and relations. Talk is important for learning because people express their own thinking through verbal interactions while internalizing what is being negotiated and constructed with others. The types of questions one asks and the connections one makes between ideas and experiences affect what can be learned.

An example would help demonstrate the importance of talk to family learning culture in general. Imagine two different families watching the television show Full House, a sitcom about a widowed father raising three daughters with help from his brother-in-law and a friend. Let’s say in the episode that the teenage daughter, D. J., is trying to lose weight by starving herself to get ready for a pool party. In one family, the parents and children watch the show together and make a few comments, such as “That was a great episode” or “It must be difficult to try to lose weight in a short time,” but do not really engage in conversation. After the show, the family moves on to doing other things around the house. In the other family, the parent starts a conversation by asking: “What do you think about D. J.’s approach to losing weight?” or “Have you ever felt pressure from your friends about your weight?” The family spends another ten minutes after the episode reflecting on the situation, and moves on to talking about what a healthy diet and exercise regimen might look like. This sparks a question about the nutritional value of different types of food, so the family turns on the computer to search online for which fruits and vegetables are the most fibrous and have the least amount of sugar. In which of the two scenarios is family learning taking place? The second one, of course. The questions parents ask prompt children to analyze the situation and connect it to their own experiences, and the rich content of the family conversation creates an interest in learning new things.

The same happens around video games when parents watch their children with an eye toward opportunities for learning and connection. For example, video games are particularly suited for learning and having conversations about systems thinking. Systems thinking is the ability to see the “big picture” and understand the complex ways that the elements of a system interact to create the whole. It is increasingly recognized as important skill in the workplace and the classroom, as well as for civic participation as we discover that the complex issues the world faces can only (p.124) be solved through a systems thinking lens. While systems thinking is an important skill, it is difficult to master. This is because systems thinking requires nonlinear thinking, the ability to handle complex concepts, and an understanding of the relationships between components of a system and how they generate system outcomes.32

One way for parents to learn more about games and help their children develop higher-order thinking skills is to view games as systems. Almost all games involve components that interact in different ways to create a whole; that is, the game itself. These components include the player(s), the goal(s), the rule(s), and the game mechanics. The complexity of games varies, but the core characteristics of a game look similar across different games. One simple experiment families can do to start thinking of games as systems is to pick a game that they usually play, change the goal or rule(s) of the game, try to play the game with the new goal or rule(s), and see what happens. What families will quickly discover is that when they change one component of a game, the entire game will change and consequently produce different outcomes. Or perhaps they will have a broken or out-of-balance system in which the game will no longer be playable unless they change other components of the game and experiment with how to create a playable game with different goals and rules.

Questions to Ask Children

In this section, we identify a set of questions that parents can use to learn about the games their children are playing and help their children reflect on their gaming experience and understanding of the game as a system. Because many games, video games or not, share common features, the questions can be used with a wide range of games with minor adjustment. We organized the questions so that families start with “what” questions to develop an understanding of each component of the game, and gradually move onto “how” questions that help them reflect on the interactions between different components and how these interactions produce game outcomes. Not all questions will be relevant to every game. Think of these questions as conversation starters.


  • The goal of this set of questions is to identify the components of the game.

  • What is the goal of the game?

  • What character do you play in the game?

  • (p.125) What role do you take on in the game?

  • What is the storyline in the game?

  • What other characters are in the game?

  • What are the rules of the game?


  • The goal of this set of questions is to understand the context of the game.

  • Where do you go for … ? (Choose an item or an action of the player; e.g., magic spells, fishing)

  • Where is the … ? (Choose a character or a place in the game; e.g., enemy, castle)

  • When do you … ? (Choose an action of the player in the game; e.g., jump, die, shoot, pick)

  • When does the … (Choose a character or an item in the game) do … ? (Choose a behavior of the character or the item)


  • The goal of this set of questions is to understand the interactions between different components in the game.

  • Why did you … ? (Choose a player action; e.g., collect, stop, continue)

  • Why do you like … ? (Choose a player action, item, or character in the game)

  • How do you … ? (Choose a player action or an activity in the game)

  • How does … (Choose a player action, item, or character in the game) interact with … ? (Choose a player action, item, or character in the game)

  • How does the game change when you … ? (Choose a player or a character action)

  • When do you win the game?

  • When do you lose the game?

Playing Games with Children

This form of family engagement around video games is the cornerstone of this book. As we have discussed, intergenerational play around video games can promote positive family interactions and experiences. Earlier in this chapter, we discussed how intergenerational play is a family (p.126) routine and ritual that supports the family as a community of practice. In the previous section, we described watching children play video games as a good starting point for parents to become involved in their children’s gaming and to plant the seeds for a family learning culture by asking questions that help parents and children understand video games as systems. That said, simply watching children play video games is not enough to cultivate a family learning culture. Watching someone else do something is still a spectator sport rather than a participatory act. A truly shared experience is created when both parties are involved in the same activity as “doers.” Therefore, it is important for parents to join their children in playing video games. Additionally, parents will be better positioned to monitor their children’s gaming while participating in intergenerational play. Shared experiences around video games support communication, connection, and learning between parents and children as they create a context for family conversations around a wide variety of topics. Furthermore, intergenerational play around video games supports a family learning culture by providing opportunities for families to engage in collaborative problem solving. In the next section, we discuss what families can do while engaging in intergenerational play around single-and multiplayer games to create collaborative learning experiences around video games.

Single-Player Games

When people think about collaboration around video games, they often think about multiplayer games in which two or more people can play together. However, any game can support collaboration between family members if the experience is structured accordingly. Since collaboration takes the form of meaningful interactions and conversations around video games, the social arrangement around video games (i.e., interactions between people) is more relevant to collaboration than the material arrangement (i.e., the interaction of individual players with the game through a controller). In fact, families that participated in the Family Quest and Families@Play projects collaborated around single-player games just as much as, if not more than, multiplayer games. One successful strategy that emerged from our observations of families playing single-player games in their homes and in other settings outside of the home is turn-taking.

As we mentioned in chapter 1, parents who consider themselves as nongamers still played casual games such as Candy Crush, Solitaire, and Tetris on their cell phones. While these games are single-player games, they can be an entry point for intergenerational play around video games. Similarly, the single-player games that children like to play on their own (p.127) or a parent’s cell phone, such as Flappy Bird or Subway Surfers, can also establish a collaborative family gaming environment. One common feature that these games share is a short play cycle in which players engage in rounds of trial and failure. These games also have simple gameplay mechanics and controls, making it easier for people to learn how to play the game. Players can therefore step into and out of the game with minimal effort. Together, these features make it easy for family members to take turns playing these games. For instance, the members of the Cruz family, whom we met as part of our ethnographic study, often sat down at their kitchen table and played Flappy Bird as a family before dinner, with each member taking their turn to play the game and passing the phone to the next person when they failed. Whether parents start with a game that they enjoy playing and invite their children to take a turn, or a game their children enjoy playing and ask to take a turn, single-player games can support collaboration between parents and children while engaging them in intergenerational play.

Multiplayer Games

By their design, multiplayer games involve the participation of two or more people in the same game space. Games like Just Dance, World of Warcraft, Halo, Eve, Lego Star Wars, and League of Legends were some of the multiplayer games families reported playing together. Not all multiplayer games afford the same level of social and verbal interaction between family members. For instance, in Just Dance, up to four people can dance together at the same time; however, each player is responsible for performing their own dance moves correctly and does not need to talk with other players. In the two-player version of Portal 2, problem solving is collaborative, but in-game communication channels are limited to basic pointing gestures directing the other person to the next location. In massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends, teamwork requires coordination of actions and different skill sets to slay enemies through verbal and written communication. So, just because there are other players involved in a game does not mean that family members will engage in collaboration, verbal interactions, or meaningful conversations. Furthermore, families bring their own interaction patterns and dynamics to multiplayer games, and thus take advantage of the affordances for collaboration and social interactions of these games to different degrees. Conflict, as opposed to collaboration and coordination, can arise quickly when parents and children disagree while deciding on which task to complete or become frustrated with each other’s performance in the game.

(p.128) Families can optimize multiplayer games for collaboration, social interactions, and learning through division of labor; that is, families can assign different parts of the gameplay to different family members and switch roles and responsibilities while playing. This includes having a family discussion about what each person enjoys doing in the game and the parts they like or feel comfortable and confident playing. It also involves a balanced approach as to who takes the role of leader, guide, or teacher while playing. Parents need to be sensitive to the power dynamics associated with being a guide versus being a follower. We observed that conflict between parents and children while playing video games can occur when one family member claims the role of expert and guides the other person, but never steps out of that role. For instance, children who knew how to play Minecraft always wanted to guide their parents who were less knowledgeable about the game, even though the parents expressed an interest in exploring the game themselves after learning about basic game mechanics. We also observed the opposite. Some parents wanted to guide their children the entire time they were playing, even when their children expressed an interest in sharing leadership responsibility. Monitoring who is developing what kind of expertise and switching roles across different tasks helps family members to share power and control over gameplay and thus promotes collaborative interactions and conversations around multiplayer games.

Aligning Game and Family Communities

When people think about video games, they often think about the gameplay and the social interactions between people within and around the game, and nothing more. However, video gaming includes players engaging in other practices around video games that are as valuable for learning and social interaction as playing the games themselves. These practices include, but are not limited to, contributing to online forums, modifying game code, and creating videos of gameplay. Together, these practices support what Henry Jenkins and his colleagues call a “participatory culture” through which people develop valuable skills and exercise a new form of engaged citizenship by producing media content (not just consuming it) and learning from, as well as contributing to, the collective knowledge of a broader community.33 The participants in a gaming community play the game as well as engage in the aforementioned practices around the game.

As we discussed earlier, families can be viewed as communities of practice wherein playing video games can become a routine and a ritual. (p.129) Families can connect their gaming practices at home with the larger gaming community by participating in activities that members of the larger gaming community partake in outside of the game. By so doing, families continue to cultivate a family learning culture as these activities present new opportunities for learning and developing skills together. A common activity among members of the gaming community is to contribute content to online game forums and websites. Through posting comments and responses to others, members of the gaming community use these online spaces to share information and experiences with the community, exchange ideas with others who play the game, and make new connections. Nowadays, almost all video games have some kind of online space for players to connect with one another and contribute content. Families can share their gaming experiences on these forums and use online content as a resource to advance in the game.

Another common activity among members of the gaming community is to watch and create videos about games, typically on YouTube. The videos include content ranging from recordings of gameplay, often featuring player commentary, to reviews that analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a game. There are many reasons why people watch these videos. Newcomers might watch videos to learn about a game before they begin to play. For those who are already playing the game, walkthrough videos can help them with a challenging part of the game. These walkthroughs also teach others about different ways of playing the game or different aspects of the game. Game reviews inform community members about shortcomings or highlights of the game. Families can search for videos of the games they like to play, watch them together, and reflect on the information provided in the video. They can also post comments to provide feedback for the creator of the video. Finally, families can create videos about their own gaming experiences or their thoughts on a particular game and share them with other members of the gaming community. Through the process of creating their own videos, families can explore how to use movie-editing software and learn how to post a video on video-sharing sites.

The last activity we will discuss here is using cheat codes to modify games. Players have the ability to change some aspects of certain games, such as their character’s health or appearance, using cheat codes—commands that trigger a change in the game. Almost all video games have cheat codes that players can use to modify the game. In chapter 4, Tomas used a cheat code while playing The Sims with his mother to get more Simoleons—the in-game currency—so that he could purchase items in the game. Finding and implementing cheat codes can be a starting point (p.130) for family conversations about computer programming and the technical skills involved in making video games.

Creating Games Together

In addition to watching their children play video games, playing games together as a family, and engaging in online practices that connect the family gaming to the larger gaming community, parents can also make video games together with their children. When people hear the phrase “designing video games,” they often think about programming and coding. This makes designing video games seem like an impossible task for them as individuals, let alone as a family. Designing video games, like other things in everyday life, starts with an idea. If people can come up with ideas about what to cook for dinner, where to go for a summer vacation, or how to fix a creaky door, they can also come up with an idea for a game. If they brainstorm and collaborate with others (e.g., their family members) to come up with the idea, that is even better. Although video games that are currently available may make it seem like people can only design shooting games, puzzle games, simulation games, adventure games, educational games, location-based games, or exercise games, there are genres of video games that we have yet to discover and topics that we have yet to design video games around. A game can be about anything. People just need to look around for inspiration.

In the beginning of this book, we discussed humankind’s long history of playing games. Games have been around for as long as humans have. Like any other human endeavor, games evolved over time as technology improved. Not all of the games people have enjoyed playing throughout history were designed by professional game designers; many games grew out of ordinary people’s daily activities and play. Designing games is as ancient an enterprise as playing them.

Why have people been designing games for tens of thousands of years? Designing games, much like drawing a picture or telling a story, is a form of creative expression, a way of preserving culture, and a leisure activity. People represent their understanding of the world through images (in the case of drawings and paintings), words (in the case of stories and books), and a combination of images, words, and performance (in the case of film and games). Like paintings, books, and movies, games are also used as a medium for storytelling. However, games stand out as a participatory medium in which the audience experiences and is actively engaged with the unfolding of the story. People use different media as they become (p.131) available to capture and share their own family experiences. For instance, people draw pictures to represent their family experiences, write stories that document their experiences, take photos of where they were and what they were doing at a particular time, or make movies about their family. In addition to looking at their surroundings to find inspiration for game design, people can also represent their family experiences through designing video games about them.

Two things come to mind when we think about “designing,” “creating,” or “making” in the everyday lives of families: doing arts and crafts activities, and cooking meals together. These fairly common activities play an important role in supporting family bonding and learning through the process of collaboratively creating a tangible product. They also offer an outlet for families to express themselves creatively. Playing and making are activities that are beneficial for children and families as they provide different kinds of opportunities for social interactions, learning, and connection. Throughout this book, we have demonstrated how playing video games is similar to other play activities families do together and illustrated some of their unique affordances for family learning, connection, and communication. We believe making games has overlapping qualities with other making activities that families do together. When families design video games, they also collaboratively create a tangible product; that is, the game. They can also share this product with others just like they would if they made dinner or painted a picture together.

For a long time, researchers and commentators used the term “digital divide” to describe those who have access to information and communication technologies and those who do not. This is often discussed in one of two ways: first, from an international perspective, as a gap between developed and developing countries with respect to the level of technology acquisition of their citizens; second, from a national perspective, as a gap between groups of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds within a country with respect to its level of technology acquisition. Citizens of developing countries and people from low socioeconomic backgrounds are disadvantaged by not having access to technology in a world where technology not only is infiltrated into everyday life and work, but also propels change and innovation.

More recently, US researchers have discussed the “participation gap,” the gap in skills and abilities to use information and communication technologies that perpetuate inequalities between people from more or less advantaged backgrounds.34 S. Craig Watkins argues that, while the digital gap with respect to acquiring technological devices is closing between (p.132) people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, the practices people engage in around these technologies still look different.35 The issue around technology is not necessarily about having access to a technology but what people are able to do with it. Socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic divides exist with respect to who consumes versus who creates content using technology. From this vantage point, designing video games in addition to playing them can set children and families on a trajectory of learning and developing skills that are important for successfully participating in the twenty-first century. Next, we share some ideas about how to get started with designing video games as a family.

Brainstorm Game Ideas and Components

The first step in the game design process is to come up with an idea for your game. The best way to come up with an idea is to generate lots of ideas and choose the one that seems the most fun, the most feasible, or that your family would most like to pursue. This process can be accomplished by holding a family brainstorming session. The brainstorming session can take place anywhere in the house—the kitchen, the living room, even at the dinner table. If possible, we recommend having sticky notes and pens or pencils around so family members can write down their ideas. One productive way to structure the brainstorming session is to have time limits. You would be surprised by how many ideas people can generate in as little as five minutes.

A simple way for parents to kick off a brainstorming session is to say, “Let’s come up with as many ideas for a game as we can in five minutes!” and set a timer. Each family member should have a stack of sticky notes that they can use to write down their individual ideas. Once the five minutes is over, each person can share their ideas with the rest of their family. Or, family members can collectively generate as many ideas as possible within the five-minute time limit. If producing as many ideas as possible is too broad for family members to get their creative juices flowing, another productive way to structure the activity is to pick a topic such as cooking, sports, friendship, or family around which to generate as many ideas as possible.

Once the five-minute (or however much time was allocated for brainstorming ideas) session is up, family members need to take some time to sort the suggestions and choose one to develop into a game. Similar ideas can be clustered together and ranked based on family members’ preferences, or each family member can first pick the idea that they like the most, then debate as a family and select one idea that everyone has agreed upon. If a brainstorming session at home is uninspiring, you can always change the scenery and brainstorm while shopping in the mall, eating out, (p.133) or even visiting the zoo. You can use your phone to write down or voice record your ideas. If none of these brainstorming strategies work for your family, you could take the plot of your or your children’s favorite book or TV show and design a video game around that. After a while, your family may become so attuned to game design that they may find inspiration for games during everyday conversations or activities, allowing you to skip the brainstorming session altogether.

The second step in the game design process is to identify the components of your game. This initially includes the goal, the rules, and the game mechanics. Later, you can develop the aesthetics of the game (how it looks and feels). The questions we introduced earlier in this chapter for parents to use while watching children play games should be helpful in this stage of the game design process as well. Families can utilize the structure we laid out for the brainstorming session to determine the goal, the rules, and the mechanics of their game. If you want to make a game with multiple levels, you also need to think about what you will change about each level to make it more challenging than the previous one. The goal is to come up with the skeleton of a game, not necessarily design a complete game at this stage. Writing down the ideas you have or drawing some scenes of the game on a piece of paper should be sufficient at this stage. If you were a professional game designer, you would document your ideas on a “game design document,” which identifies all the components of a game and how they interact at this stage.

Identify a Game Design Tool

While we position identifying a game design tool as the second phase in the game design process, families can explore tools before they brainstorm ideas for their game. Since different game design tools support designing different genres of games, experimenting with varied tools can help you define the kind of game your family wants to design. There are many design tools available for people of all ages and experience levels. Some tools are specifically targeted toward children, and many tools position parents as champions of their children’s game design rather than codesigners. Such framing misleads many adults, including parents, who are new to game design. They perceive these game design tools as inappropriate for adults. However, when these game design tools are framed as “for kids,” it only means that they provide a good entry point for novices to game design.

We recommend that families start with game design tools that do not require programming and coding, and then gradually move onto tools that are more advanced and even teach these skills. A common misconception among adults who are unfamiliar with designing video games is (p.134) that video game design starts with or even requires programming and coding skills. This, however, is untrue. As with any other design project, video game design begins by first designing the system, and then engineering it by using a programming language. Programming is used to build games, not design them. A programmer does not necessarily know how to design video games. In fact, many game designers work with programmers, artists, and producers to build the games that they designed. While learning to code may be a beneficial outcome of family engagement in game design (and many educational programs have used game design to motivate children to learn programming), the process of game design itself can be a useful introduction to “thinking like a designer” and learning concepts that are applicable to a variety of design situations.36

Next, we review some of the tools that are available for designing and creating video games. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you a sense of where to start and what games you can design as a family without any knowledge of programming languages. Each of these tools has a website where you can access the tool and additional resources.

Gamestar Mechanic (https://gamestarmechanic.com/)

This is an online game design platform that uses a drag-and-drop interface to create top-down and platformer games. Families can start using this tool by completing “quests” that introduce various game design elements, playing games created by other users, or diving right into creating their own original games. The Gamestar Mechanic design tool is available free of charge, although other options can be purchased for a fee. This tool is best used for creating action-adventure games, similar to classic Nintendo role-playing and platformer games.

Twine (https://twinery.org/)

This is a free online software tool that can be used in-browser or downloaded for Windows, OS X, and Linux operating systems. If your family enjoys stories, this text-based tool is right for you. With Twine, families can create role-playing games reminiscent of the classic Dungeon & Dragons that provide interactive story experiences.

Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/)

Unlike tools that are specifically developed for creating games, Scratch is a free online programming environment that allows users to design interactive art, media, stories, and games. The term “programming environment” should not scare families away from using this tool. The environment aims to engage users with basic elements of programming using blocks of commands written in plain (p.135) English, with an easy-to-use drag and drop interface. This tool works best for designing puzzle games.

GameSalad (http://gamesalad.com/)

Similar to Scratch, GameSalad is a drag-and-drop coding platform that introduces programming fundamentals. However, GameSalad is dedicated to game creation and offers many resources for beginners and more advanced game developers. If you want to add a level of polish, take advantage of the large library of preprogrammed characters and behaviors, or even publish your game on one of the app stores, GameSalad may be the right tool for your family. It is appropriate for creating a broad range of games, including puzzles, platformers, 2.5-D adventure games, and more. Much like Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic, GameSalad also offers a community publishing site where you can explore and learn from fellow developers.

Unity3D (https://unity3d.com/)

If you want the capabilities of a professional game development platform and are interested in jumping into the depths of programming and art production, Unity3D is the tool for your family! It is a free engine with a deep feature set, but is accessible to users at every level of expertise and is a favorite tool of many independent game developers. It supports programming in Javascript and C#, and publishing to Web, mobile, and desktop platforms. It is appropriate for building any type of game, ranging from virtual card games to first-person adventures to virtual reality experiences. There are many tutorials, books, and online guides that can help you build your dream game.

Prototype and User Test Your Game

Throughout this book, we describe video games as systems with multiple components that interact in complex ways to create a fun and playable game. Designing a system, whether it is a video game, a school, or a social networking site, is not an easy task. Building all the components and expecting the entire system to run like clockwork is unreasonable, unrealistic, and inefficient. Rather than spending a lot of time and energy on building and risking the failure of an entire system, designers first develop a prototype of what they want to build and engage in an iterative process of testing and revising until they have something that works. A prototype is a sample or a model of a product that can be tested and improved upon in the process of working toward building a finished product. While the word prototype is associated with software development and sounds technical, we often engage in prototyping in our daily lives.

(p.136) For instance, when someone is developing a new recipe for blueberry muffins, they usually experiment with different ingredients to produce a small sample for others to try, then refine the recipe before baking a whole tray of blueberry muffins to share with others. Similarly, if you have ever tried crocheting or sewing, you know that prototyping is embedded in the process. You first crochet a sample granny square and iterate until you master the pattern before you crochet a dozen granny squares for a blanket. When sewing a dress, people often construct, test, and tweak the pattern of the dress using inexpensive muslin before they sew the dress using the desired fabric. Even learning a sport involves prototyping. For instance, when learning how to surf, people start closer to the shore with small waves while they practice, iterate, and finally master their technique before riding bigger waves.

Once designers have built a prototype, they test it with people who represent the desired users of their product. This phase is called user testing. User testing allows designers to solicit feedback and improve upon the design of the product. Designers go through multiple rounds of testing and revisions of their prototypes. Like other designers, video game designers first build a prototype of their game and test it with players to ensure that the game is playable and fun. Given that many game design tools are designed for a single user, it might seem hard for families to design a prototype and test their game collaboratively. One way families can overcome this limitation is to switch between the roles of designer and tester during the prototyping and user-testing phase.

Here’s how it works: First, decide who will design the prototype of the game. We recommend letting children take on the role of designer. Once the child finishes designing the first version of the game, the parent can test this version and make small improvements before passing the game back to the child. The child then takes the role of a user, playing through the second version of the game and making adjustments based on their own user testing. This process can continue until both child and parent are happy with their game. If switching the roles of designer and tester does not work for your family, you can always stick to one role during this process. Once family members are happy with their prototype, they can test their game with other family members, friends, and coworkers.

Share Your Game with Others

Once families receive feedback and improve their games, they can share their finished games with a larger group of people. Some of the game design tools we reviewed earlier, such as Gamestar Mechanic and Scratch, have their own online communities within which families can publish (p.137) and share their games. Another way for families to share their games is through entering them in a video game challenge or competition such as the National STEM Video Game Challenge (http://stemchallenge.org/). Families can also submit a proposal to showcase their games at Maker Faires (http://makerfaire.com/). These conventions, held annually in different cities across the United States, gather people to share all kinds of projects that involve making, designing, and creativity. Families can also find and join a group devoted to playing games on the Meetup social networking site (http://www.meetup.com/) and share their games at one of the meetings. Of course, families can always organize a game night at home and invite extended family and friends to play games, including the ones that they have designed, or bring their games to a gathering with friends and family.


Over the past decade, our everyday life and work experiences have been transformed by the rapid development and adoption of digital media technologies. We have come to understand the world as a dynamic system marked by constant change. The ability and willingness to learn new things has become not only a desired skill in the workplace but also a necessity for survival. Given this trend, developing a family learning culture is paramount to the success and well-being of adults and children in the twenty-first century. The boundaries that used to define the teaching and learning roles played by adults and children are quickly disappearing. The rate at which new technologies are released and the growing demand for new technology-adjacent skills compels everyone to become lifelong learners. Collaboration and problem-solving skills are becoming increasingly more important in confronting the social, environmental, and economic challenges our society faces today.

We started this chapter with an argument for reimagining the collective nature of families to understand the possibilities for family learning, connection, and communication in the twenty-first century. We conceptualized families as communities of practice and suggested intergenerational play around video games as a family routine and ritual that supports the growth of a family learning culture in which family members develop skills that are valued in the current landscape. For instance, video games create opportunities for collaboration and problem solving among family members. Although these opportunities can occur naturally, families can deliberately choose activities that develop such skills during the time they spend playing video games together. In addition to collaboration (p.138) and problem solving, families can practice such skills as modeling and prototyping when they play and create games together. These skills are not only important for children but also useful for adults in the workplace and everyday life. Through different forms of family engagement, such as watching children play video games, playing games as a family, engaging in gaming practices, and creating games together, families can cultivate a family learning culture around video games and transform video games from a point of conflict to a context for learning for everyone in the family.


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