My six-year-old is totally a gamer

Guest post by Garden Pheenix
StarWars Fangirl

My daughter is six years old and she’s a gamer. Right now she is a level 22 wood elf in Skyrim. She smiths, making her own steel armor to match Lydia, her house carl, and prefers one-handed weapons and magic along with a dwarven bow. She’s part of the Thieves Guild, a Companion, a Werewolf and the Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold. She originally started out playing Lego Star Wars which I picked up on a whim when I bought my Xbox 360 with her in mind. Thus began a massive love affair for her with Star Wars. Legos, posters, books, additional video games, the movies and cartoons — she's utterly sold. Ahsoka Tano is her hero.

Gaming and kids gets a bad wrap in mainstream media. It’s quickly blamed for violence and killing off kids’ imaginations. I’ve spent months mulling over my own feelings about letting my six-year-old play a relatively grown-up game like Skyrim where she has to kill, steal, and take on dragons, draugrs and wizards to complete quests. I’ve decided not only am I ok with this, but that it’s teaching her some great lessons.

Before I continue let’s get something out of the way. We live on a one acre smallholding in the countryside and are rapidly on the way to growing the majority of our own fresh produce. We’re outside every single day and her life does not revolve around gaming, even though she also plays every day. She’s an avid artist and has a fantastic imagination. She has chores, helps mind our animals, and has a wonderful social life with her school friends. We’re not talking about a situation where my kid is glued, brain dead, to a television playing video games all day. Speaking of television… we don’t have one. I have a monitor hooked up to our Xbox and that is how we game.

Whether or not video games can influence kids in a negative way is not my call, but I do not doubt that it happens. In our specific experience with her personality type through monitoring, gaming together, and moderation, it’s been a very positive experience. Below are some of the benefits I’ve noticed from her playing video games.

She’s improved her reading and verbal skills

Especially with Skyrim, she’s had to really focus and learn to read, sounding out words she doesn’t recognize. I don’t game when I don’t want to so she has to figure it out on her own the majority of the time. What characters say to each other, what is required for a quest, what she needs for potions or smithing — she’s on her own and learning FAST. Forget See Spot Run — she’s figuring out how to bribe guards to look the other way when she blows into town on a quest requiring her to break the law.

She’s learning perseverance

Again, I don’t play when I don’t want to so if she can’t make progress on a quest she has to figure out how to accomplish her goal. Very rarely does she give up on something as hopeless, and come to me asking for help. I’ve watched quietly as she pushes and pushes until she finally finishes a quest and been there to fist bump her on her successes.

Her problem solving skills are badass

Lego games are based on simple problem solving scenarios. When she started with Lego she was utterly lost as to how to figure out the next step but quickly learned when I refused to solve the problems for her. It helped that it was fun even if you weren’t making progress, but eventually she did and finished the game all on her own. In Skyrim as well, if one tactic doesn’t work you have to use your brain and come up with a solution in order to finish certain quests. I’ve watched her take on bosses way too strong for her by doing clever things like leading them to traps or locking them behind gates. The kid is CLEVER. And personally, I’d rather her solving problems in a video game than slumped mindlessly in front of the telly.

She’s taking an interest in new hobbies

For her birthday this year, her one request is a bow and arrow set — and she’s going to get it. Having taken archery as a kid, I have no qualms about her learning under supervision. In fact I am thrilled. She is determined to catch us dinner and cook it in an inground oven&… we also watch Ray Mears together.

Games encourage her imagination

I was relatively surprised (and delighted) to walk into her class one day (where I teach art occasionally) and hear the kids talking about being an Argonian or Kahjit and elaborately explaining to each other their own actions in a Skyrim-based world. One kid declared, verbatim: “You have committed crimes against Skyrim and her people, what say you in your defense?” (what a guard says when arresting you in game), something he picked up directly from my kid. She also absolutely adores going on long walks around our house to collect ingredients for potions, something she also does in game. Right now there is a bowl sitting on my hutch with a myriad of plants — her healing potion.

She’s way more social

She isn’t allowed to game when she has friends over, but she loves to play act the games in real life and the other kids in her class eagerly join in. Having had some serious upheaval in our lives with having to move several times after a rather unpleasant divorce, seeing her overcome social anxiety and become a confident little social butterfly is a huge relief to me. It’s also fantastic to see other little girls who are normally playing house and Barbie get sucked into being warriors or Star Wars characters.

She’s empowered

Skyrim is fantastic for being egalitarian, and as a strong feminist that mattered to me. Whether male or female (she’s played both sexes and had same sex marriages — kudos Bethesda!), you’re just the Dragonborn, a warrior. There is no objectification in the game either, something that is unfortunately rampant in the gaming world. She faces foes on her own strength and overcomes them based on her own wits, skill, and determination. There are no set gender roles in Skyrim — women are Jarls, Companions, in the City Guard, Shop Keepers, and Hunters. When she grows up she wants to be an artist, a librarian, and a warrior. As far as I am concerned, that is badass.

Games let her safely confront her fears

When she first started watching me game she was nervous of the fantasy baddies, especially Draugrs and the Falmer. She started off collecting ingredients for me and slowly realized she had nothing to fear of the baddies in game and confronted them all one by one. She’s lost her fears of fantasy boogey men in real life because she’s kicked the ass of anything intimidating in her games. Does that mean she is getting desensitized? A bit. I don’t find it a negative thing at all, though. She’s distinguishing between reality and fantasy more now than she ever did before. I’m thrilled she is losing her fear of things that don’t exist. She hasn’t been desensitized to death, despite impressive kill stats — she still cried for two days when a fox took off with our beloved duck Lily.

I’m not interested in convincing anyone to go out and buy a gaming console for their kid or to ignore any negative effects gaming can have on kids. I am interested in the positive aspects gaming has had in my kid’s life and discussing that aspect of it, because it is there. I took the risk of letting my kid explore gaming under my supervision and on the whole it’s been a completely positive experience once we got moderation under control. I’m sure there’s more aspects as well — I’ve heard mention of gaming fine-tuning motor skills. What about the rest of Offbeat Mama readers — do you let your young kids game?

Comments on My six-year-old is totally a gamer

  1. Reading this totally had me cheering for your daughter. As someone who is as of yet childless, I sometimes find myself being like “KIDS THESE DAYS AND THEIR VIDYA GAMES” … which is silly of me, and I usually catch myself in time. But reading THIS, well. This is fantastic! And it makes me so excited! She has an incredible imagination that is fostered, and not hindered, by video games. As someone who used to pretend to be Link frequently as a little girl, even -I- felt proud of her, and I don’t even know her!

    Of course, I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the TYPES of video games you’re letting her play, too – obviously GTA or something is going to birth different interests and manners of thinking – most likely, anyhow.

    … You should let her play Ocarina of Time next. 😛

  2. I feel OBLIGED to comment on this post, so HERE WE GO!

    I met my fiance a on Xbox Live. I’m the very definition of a gamer girl. I’ve been playing since the old school NES, begged my mum for a brick Gameboy for my fourth birthday (and nearly had a heart attack when she got me one). Later on I got a Super NES, Game Cube, Xbox, PS2 and a Gameboy Color for various holidays. Once I got my first job I bought a Xbox 360 and for a college graduation gift i got myself an imported Japanese DSlite! So yeah, I like games just a bit.

    Anyway, I now have a 5 year old daughter (from a previous relationship) and a 8 year old step son (my fiance’s, from a previous relationship). Both are INSANELY into games. My daughter is obsessed with Star Wars (partially because her momma was a member of the PAJedi, a stage combat group, nearly the entire time she’s been alive). Both of them are well adjusted little buggers who are just as comfortable on the floor playing Left 4 Dead or Red Dead Redemption as they are running around my apartment, attacking their father with their NERF guns.

    So who ever says kids and video games don’t meld they’re wrong. I know what it’s like to have step siblings. It can be VERY awkward, but luck for me and my gamer guy, our kids bonded over a mutual love of video games and NERF guns lol

  3. This made me so happy to read!!

    We’re thinking about kids soon, and I’ve sometimes wondered in the back of my mind how they will grow up/interact with the games that my husband and I play. It’s great to hear inspiring examples of how it can work out wonderfully!

    Also, I just started playing Skyrim a couple of weeks ago (you’re right, the egalitarian nature of that game is SO refreshing!), and I could totally use some tips from your daughter on the boss strategies. 😉

  4. We were gifted a PS2 last year (haha, I know!) and the only game that came with it that our then 5 year old liked was Lego Batman (and Robin). We eventually got new games (Dora & Diego which he still likes) but pretty quickly we all got tired of the games (they’re really old/ crappy looking), so we don’t really play a lot anymore. I’m disinclined to buy a new gaming system, but it was fun for awhile.

    Anyway, the point is, I agree completely with you. The Lego Batman got our kid into new things (superheroes, Lego, etc) and that was Good (he’s ASD). It did help all the areas you mentioned (except maybe socially. Though maybe other kindergarteners can understand obsessing about Batman and Robin more than obsessing about Diego or Dora, which he still does at home, but not so much at school. But he still has communication challenges, tho the kids at school seem to like him, they’re just somewhat confused by him. It’s getting better, tho.)

    You got me interested in Skyrim. My gamer niece (she’s almost 12!) plays minecraft (on PC, I think), but I bet she’d be into Skyrim (or was, I’ll ask my mom). Anyway, I’m interested enough to check it out!

  5. that’s pretty awesome.

    the thing that really strikes me as so great and important about this is the idea of not relegating kids to “kid stuff”. i mean, there is totally a place for stuff directed at kids and some of it is awesome, and there’s totally stuff that is completely not for kids (and some of it is awesome), but i think it is so important for kids to be included in “adult” spaces.

    i think it has something to do with the idea that people will live up to the expectations you set for them. that or the idea that kids are, in fact, people.

    • I miss the “THIS” button; THIS! THIS! THIS! I think it is very important to have kids be treated as people, and I think the fact that I hung out with my parents and their friends so much as a child, in non-kid-specific situations, really helped me become mature and socially adept early on. THIS! 🙂

    • Yes, so much this! I was always included in adult stuff, and while it made me precocious amongst my peers, it also enabled me to surge ahead and do so much more. Of course things leveled out when I was out of school, but still, it was an amazing advantage to be able to relate to the grown ups in my world.

  6. Like any hobby, gaming is really only an issue if done to excess, and to the exclusion of all other things. Normally those self same people decrying it as an unfit pastime for children (ignoring entirely the ratings system) will see nothing wrong in kids watching 5 hours of television a night. Games can be amazingly inventive and inspiring, just like any other media.

  7. This is FABULOUS! My fiancé, an avid Skyrim (among many other games) player, is next to me playing Diablo 3 and I read this to him and we can’t agree more with everything you said– your daughter sounds totally fabulous and well-rounded! And badass, to boot!

  8. This is a fantastic piece! Thank you so much for your point of view. As an avid gamer myself and a huge fan of Skyrim (level 50 Imperial… I favor magic and a single-hand blade) I am often infuriated by the common misconception that video games are responsible for warping the minds of America’s youth. I am highly skeptical of the supposed “negative effects” of gaming. I think that a lot of ignorant folks use it as a scape-goat for their own bad parenting, quite frankly.
    The fact is, that when used in moderation (just like ANYTHING), video games can have all the benefits you listed and more.
    Thanks so much for sharing this story about your daughter. It really made my day!

  9. Hooray for gamer kids and parents! My five year old started playing Fable with me when she was three and I also have seen a lot of benefits from her gaming.Believe it or not, this also includes ATTENTION SPAN, one of the main things they blame video games for messing up. Awesome article with great observations.

  10. This? This right here? This is what I can support. A parent not only taking an interest in the kid and their interests, but supporting it in a very healthy way.

    My stepson (Asperger’s) is heavily obsessed with video games/movies/tv shows…and his weight/muscles/stamina show it. I found out those were used to help him “occupy himself”. We are not a major gaming household but we do play on occasion. He still gets game time, but it’s limited greatly from what he’s used to because he needs to be more physically active (LOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGGG road ahead).

    But you? You are doing an awesome job raising your daughter.

  11. Our 5 year old and our 3 year old play Operation Flashpoint, ARMA, ARMA 2, Tigger’s Honey Hunt, Minesweeper, Pinball and Zuma as well as various incarnations of Sonic, NASCAR and Pokeman. With the First Person Shooter games, they have the option of custom missions, so they tend to take their squad for a run all over the islands or drive around in tanks. Our 5 year old can use a map in real life and follows various commands. It made the recent school excursion much easier because she has taught her friends the phrases as well, which meant that I was leading the largest and best behaved group.

    As for violence and stuff, my two are actually very sensitive and empathetic. They stand up for themselves when appropriate, but they always give several warnings and try their best to resolve issues without violence. Computer time is fairly balanced, they have their own computer with no internet connection. Which is good because Miss 3 knows how to update the drivers and do other things. I don’t want her on the ‘net!

    We practise child-led play, so they have free access to their toys, art supplies, dress-ups, backyard, garden, computer, etc. Yet, they still seem to spend less time on gaming than they do everything else. I think it’s because gaming is just a part of their lives, it’s nothing forbidden or special so it’s not a big deal for them.

  12. oooh you go girl! I’m also an avid gamer – even met my husband on an mmorpg (wait did I just admit that in a public forum!?). My son is only two but since our whole social circle are gamers (tabletop, boardgames, video games, you name it) I think he`ll naturally fall into these activities. D&D for young kids yay.

    Skyrim and that whole elder scrolls line are great – and yes there are many great games out there now that cover a wide range of subjects, approaches, complexity etc – something for everyone.

    Glad to hear of others sharing that philosophy! I think imagination and creative play with these freeform games are awesome for kids`s development, when used reasonably of course.

  13. I think this is awesome. My fiance and I have talked a lot about the influence that the computer and our gaming will have on our kids. As an english teacher, reading and imagination are very important to me, and as a computer tech, computer skills and learning interaction on the computer early, are important to him. I’m really glad to hear about your positive experiences, and appreciate your candor.

  14. This post was great. I think people don’t realize that playing a video game is often a gateway into tons of other totally awesome and adorable things kids do because of their love for the game.
    My two boys are totally into Mario and Mariokart for the Wii. They’ll play it for a half hour or so, then they do their own races around the house (including building cardboard cars to drive around in), draw endless pictures of all the mario characters, learn the stats of all the players, act out Mario levels, etc. Its endless entertainment for them and I think its totally awesome.

  15. My son is just like this. Well, he is 5 and he loves the LEGO games–all of them. Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc…These are all new interests to him and he has toys that show it. I see now that the LEGO games are just not something he still enjoys as much (as they’re not as complicated to him anymore) and I am now looking into Skyrim and Minecraft for him. I am not a gamer girl myself, but I do see that with moderation (which was something we had to tackle) these games helped him developmentally tremendously. I am glad to read this and see that others are going though this as well. It’s wonderful to read how another mother handles this so wonderfully.

  16. I too loved this post! My 4 year old is just at the stage where he has the fine motor control to play more video games. He now has a nice collection of his own games alongside my fiance and our sizable stash. We got him the Kinect Sesame Street game to start him off and he’s just now able to do the Lego games although we have to play them with him otherwise he doesn’t get anywhere. He’s even picked up the racing games that came with my xbox 360 that I have no interest in and loves them!
    It’s great to be able to play games with my son and to see him get better at them over time. It has helped him learn to persevere even when something is super frustrating and gives him a sense of accomplishment when he finally figures out a puzzle or move.
    Thanks for the article and three cheers for kiddo’s gaming responsibly along with their parents!

  17. I love that she wants a bow and arrow so she can catch you dinner! Awesome.

    I am that mom who has a knee jerk reaction against video games. I think you just changed my mind.

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