If you’re going to play shooters on the Nintendo Switch, like Warframe or the upcoming Overwatch port, you’ll want to use a keyboard and mouse.
Yes. You can use a keyboard and mouse with your Switch.
I, for one, believe that there’s an accessory for every task. And when you’re playing a shooter, it’s a fool’s errand to do it any other way than with a keyboard and mouse.
Joy-Con are great for casual, on-the-go gaming, but they are awful for shooters. For one, the joysticks are too squat to allow for precise aiming. (That’s why aim assist on consoles is a thing.) And they aren’t comfortable to hold for a long period of time.
While the Pro controller is an improvement, it still doesn’t close to matching the precision you’d get from using a KB/M.
Some in the gaming community would deem it an unfair advantage. However, I’d argue that it’s actually just using the right tool for the job. I’d like to see an argument against using driving wheels for racing games, or fight sticks for Tekken or Street Fighter.
I tried Overwatch on a PS4 with a DualShock once, and it was an absolutely dreadful experience.
So, when Overwatch was announced for the Switch, I immediately looked for a way to use a KB/M. And I came across this, the $80 Delta Essentials Keyboard and Mouse, which is designed specifically for use with game consoles. (For this review, I used Warframe as stand-in. But it should work with games like Fortnite and DOOM, plus it promises to work on Overwatch too, but we’ll see for sure when it drops next month.)
For what it’s worth, the company also makes a special converter that will let you use any USB keyboard and mouse you already own.
It’s pretty straightforward to set up: I just turned on the “PRO controller wired communications” setting on the Switch, plugged the mouse into the keyboard, and the keyboard into the Switch dock, pressed Ctrl+2, and it worked.
Using a keyboard and mouse just felt so much more natural to me, thus making the game so much more enjoyable.
One hiccup I found was that the keys on the keyboard don’t match what the input on a standard Switch controller would be. For instance, pressing the “F” key on the keyboard would register as “X” on the Switch, and you’d need to press the “Shift” key to press left trigger on the Switch. You can remap the buttons with software, but obviously, they’ll always be laid out differently than they would be on a gamepad.
When I got tired of referencing the manual, I just ordered keyboard stickers so that the keys would reflect what is inputted on the Switch.
Of course, this’ll only work if you have the classic Nintendo Switch (not the Lite) docked and used in tandem with a desktop setup, like I do. (Made possible with my beloved Insignia dock.) Otherwise, you may need a USB extender if you’re playing on a TV. For the price of a pair of Joy-Con, this made a world of difference in terms of my ability to aim and enjoy the game.
Feel free to cancel your Peloton membership, now that Ring Fit Adventure is up for pre-order. Nintendo’s new $80 fitness game uses role-playing game mechanics to keep you motivated during your workouts.
To play, you’ll need to attach one Joy-Con to a leg strap, and the other to a wild peripheral, the Ring-Con. When used in tandem, these two accessories will keep track of your movements and help you interact with game.
Just a heads up, you’re going to look undeniably silly with this workout, but that’s part of the fun.
If the Wii Fit is any indication, this type of workout gamification will be an addictive, welcome addition to a healthy lifestyle. Pre-orders are open now, and it ships in about a month.
You know who are the worst people on earth? Dingbats who condescendingly scoff at creative works because they’re not “modern.” Those who go to revival screenings to guffaw at pre-digital special effects, or who say things like, “This game sucks! The graphics are so blocky and it doesn’t auto-save every five seconds!”
Don’t let your child become that. Instead, introduce them to older masterpieces early and often, so they learn that art is a conversation between the ages, and every creator of a cool, new thing is standing on the shoulders of giants. Start with these retro games and work your way up to Truffaut.
Atari’s 1979 classic is a masterclass in the power of minimalism and design, and a perfect first game for kids. Using only 4 kiB of RAM (that’s about two pages of text), creator Warren Robinett wove a sweeping adventure that includes combat, puzzles, exploration, and even the world’s first Easter egg. It still works because your child’s imagination will transform the game’s blocky shapes and simple quests into an entire world of danger and heroics. It’s like magic. When my son was four, he identified with Adventure’s hero (a square) so strongly that he insisted on dressing up like him/her/it for Halloween. He talked incessantly about the sinister motives of the bat (What is a bat even going to do with a goblet anyway?), and had nightmares about the game’s “dragon” (a not-scary-at-all blob of pixels that looks like a duck) coming to get him. All that from a few pixels and a perfect design.
I used to let my kid win most of the time, but now he’s 12, and I don’t let him do shit. But even when I’m playing my best, he beats me. He smokes me at Halo. He’s beaten my old ass at every Mario Kart game ever made. But not Joust. Joust is my last line of video game defense.
My mom was wrong: All those hours feeding quarters into that accursed machine at Spaceport did pay off, because now I completely DESTROY my kid at Joust. I mean, I knock him off his ostrich without even thinking about it, and grab up all the bonus eggs too. In your face, kid! Your old man can still kick your ass! I’m not completely irrelevant … right? (You should substitute whatever arcade game you wasted your youth playing, of course. They’re all available somewhere.)
Super Mario Bros. 3
Everyone likes this game. It’s impossible to not like this game. Its perfect level design, colorful graphics, unforgettable characters and addiction potential as strong as heroin make this early ‘80s Nintendo classic the best video game ever made. Warning, though: Do not let your child play the Switch version. It includes save slots. This is sacrilege. It destroys the lesson of SMB: Even ostensibly fun things are actually a frustrating series of mistakes and disappointments, and only through perseverance and drudgery can we hope to succeed at jumping on bullets and dodging those goddamn fireballs spat out of weird plants that will eat you.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Ocarina of Time blew everyone’s mind when it came out in 1998. Everything we ever wanted from a video game was packed in one little N64 cartridge: a huge (for the time, anyway) open world, perfectly balanced puzzles that seem impossible at first, but aren’t actually hard enough to frustrate you, 3D gameplay and combat that didn’t suck, unforgettable characters, an awesome horse, great music, and more. Every Zelda game since then, right up to Breath of the Wild, is just a footnote, a refinement of Ocarina of Time, so if your kid ever wonders how newer games came about, a few hours playing Ocarina of Time will provide the answers, and a hell of a fun time.
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
As a rule, I don’t like things that are “educational,” but I make an exception for AoE II.This real-time-strategy game came out for PCs in 1999,and it’s still a perfect game for older kids. It lets you lead one of 13 ancient civilizations, and battle against other cultures by gathering resources, building weapons, and going to war. Each civilization is unique, and the carefully balanced gameplay means that any civilization can defeat any other, if you play it right. Not only does Age of Kings teach players something about ancient cultures, it also teaches you how to think strategically, how to plan and organize, and lets you create fantasy alternative histories in which ancient Korea went to war with the Celts, or the Huns fought the Aztecs.
Another game that’s perfect for older kids, SimCity 2000 is proof that video games don’t have to be violent, fast, competitive or even about anything interesting to be totally engrossing. This civic administration simulator challenges players to grow and run their own city, micro-managing zoning, taxes, traffic patterns and municipal ordinances (kids love ordinances!). It sounds incredibly boring, but it’s totally fascinating, and I will fight you if you don’t think so.
More than just a fun way to waste 8,000 hours, SimCity 2000 will change the way your kid thinks about the world around them. What was once an anonymous city block can now be understood in terms of the laws, history, and wrenching political compromises that brought it into being. Your kid will see an abandoned building and wonder how exactly the mayor failed his people, or take a look at a map and figure out how the traffic flow could be improved. As an added bonus, you can name your city “Fartburgh.”
There are casual gamers who like to occasionally pick up a game to relax for a few minutes, and there are more dedicated players who will devote hours to completing games and unlocking achievements. And then there’s those gamers who refer to themselves as “pros” or “hardcore” who must have the highest score, beat a game in the fastest time, and dominate everyone else online. 8BitDo’s new SN30 Pro+ controller, which can be thoroughly customized and reprogrammed through a new app, is designed for that latter crowd.
The company’s controller lineup has primarily focused on retro gaming so far, but when the Switch arrived it started adding more modern features to its controllers like extra shoulder buttons and analog joysticks. The new 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ features a design reminiscent of Nintendo’s own Switch Pro Controller (not a bad thing) but with the analog sticks arranged side by side like Sony does with the PlayStation’s gamepads.
The 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ was first revealed back in 2018 around E3 as a prototype, with features like rumbling haptic feedback, wireless Bluetooth support, built-in motion controls, better ergonomics than the company’s SN30 Pro, and USB-C charging. It was expected to arrive sometime in late 2018, but 8BitDo ended up delaying its release while the company did some fine-tuning, as it explained on Twitter earlier this year.
It turns out that fine-tuning included the addition of one other major feature: the SN30 Pro+’s Ultimate Software which allows the controller to be excruciatingly customized and reprogrammed. Available for Windows and Mac OS at launch (a mobile version might eventually arrive) the software not only allows all of the controller’s buttons to be remapped to a gamer’s preferences, but it also allows multiple inputs to be programmed to a single button. So, yes, inputting the Konami code just got significantly easier.
In addition to programmability, the feel and responsiveness of the SN30 Pro+’s analog buttons and joysticks can also be customized and tweaked so they’re more or less responsive, and those customizations can be saved and reloaded so the controller can be adjusted on a game by game basis. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a controller that boasts such robust customizability, the ALL Controller promised similar functionality a couple of years ago, but it has yet to be released to backers of its Kickstarter campaign. 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+, on the other hand, is available for pre-order now for $50, and will ship on August 7.
There is one feature the SN30 Pro+ is lacking, however, that could limit its adoption among pro gamers. Out of the box it supports Windows and Mac OS computers, the Nintendo Switch, mobile devices running Android, and even homebrew consoles that are compatible with Bluetooth controllers. What it doesn’t support is the Xbox One or the PS4 by default. Getting any of the 8BitDo controllers to work with those consoles requires additional adapters, and the added cost and hassle might not be worth it. 8BitDo has created simple adapters that allow Microsoft and Sony’s controllers to be used on other systems, but hopefully, it’s got an adapter in the works that allows its own controllers, including the SN30 Pro+, to play nice with the Xbox One and PS4.
This Saturday is Free RPG Day, an annual celebration of role-playing games mostly observed at local game shops. Participating stores are handing out free stuff including game modules, dice, and t-shirts, as well as hosting games and other events. Here’s what to look forward to.
Get something free
The idea behind Free RPG Day is that everyone gets something free from their local game shop (donated by game publishers), and hopefully they buy something while they’re there—or a free game sparks their interest in a publisher’s other offerings.
To see what your local shop is giving away, check their website and their social media pages. And to find local participating shops, search on the Free RPG Day site.
The free stuff usually runs out by the end of the day, so show up early and don’t expect guaranteed freebies. That’s only part of the day’s fun, anyway.
Play a game
Most game shops also have a few tables where customers can play games, not just today but all the time. These games can feel a little intimidating, but an event day is a good time to work up some courage and ask how to join in. It’s like showing up to church for the Christmas Eve service—a good shop will be especially trying to win over converts today.
Again, check the social media for your local shop to see what they’ll be playing, and to ask them directly how you can get involved. You might even need to sign up ahead to get a seat.
Download a game
There are thousands of RPGs that are always free, all the time. DriveThruRPG, “the largest RPG download store,” is advertising its wide catalog of free games and modules. It’s a mess of offerings with little explanation or guidance, but an experienced gamer can look around and try anything interesting—and since it’s free, you can download a ton of material and sort through it later. This is a good weekend to discover a new game or a cool scenario for one of your favorite games:
If you’re new to gaming, that array of options can be a little overwhelming. Let me steer you toward one-page RPGs, which are much less complicated and usually free. I wrote a whole guide to this exciting genre, which skips the chunky rulebooks and supplements and even the weird dice. You can play a game with nothing more than a few dice and a sheet of paper.
If you’re still intimidated, find one friend who’s experienced with RPGs and have them run the game as your dungeon master.
Host a game
If you already have an established gaming group outside of a store, and you’ve got all the gaming stuff you need, this is still a great day to play your own game, especially in public.
To play at a bar or in a park—or anywhere a group of people can talk and laugh without being rude—play one of the minimalist RPGs listed in my other post, or one of these other options:
Lost in the Fantasy World: You’re modern kids trapped in a D&D-style universe, fighting to get back home. You have to choose between helping people in this world and reuniting with your own families. It’s Jumanji meets Stranger Things meets The Neverending Story.
Or find a game on the OnePageRPGs subreddit, where I got all of these. Many of these games are posted by their creators, so you can ask them directly for any rules clarifications, or find their other work. Now go inside and play!
Analog WeekJust because ‘there’s an app for that’ doesn’t mean you have to use it. This week we’re going analog, reminding ourselves that we can live—and live _well_ —without smartphones, and seeing what’s worth preserving from the time before we were all plugged in 24/7.
Even though I had plenty of access to PC games and consoles as a kid (ah, the amazingness that was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System), I loved going to the arcade. While I probably spent way too much time trying to master titles like Smash TV and Cyber Sled—and, of course, side-scrollers like Golden Axe and The Simpsons—I also spent a some time with the games that required a bit more physical skill: Skee-Ball, countless basketball games, or that game where you had to throw a football through the holes.
I don’t get around to the arcade very much anymore, but when I do, I prefer to spend my time trying to earn tickets for novelty prizes instead of broadcasting my poor Dance Dance Revolution skills to the world. I always forget to research what I’m going to play before I go, though. While learning some tricks for mastering miniature free throws might not make me the Steph Curry of the local mini-golf center, at least it will help me not burn through my through my cash/tokens/credits with little to show.
The next time you’re hitting up the local arcade—or gaming-themed bar, or whatever—here are a few pointers for getting better at the games you might find there.
First, try to pick a basketball-themed game that’s easier by default. Don’t go for the one where you have to shoot what amounts to a free throw at an unconventional angle—or worse, a three-pointer (if such games even exist). Also, look at the ratio of the ball you’re shooting against the hoop you’re trying to put it in. Tiny ball, gigantic hoop? You’re golden. Regular ball, regular hoop? Trickier, but not impossible. And does the hoop move at all or do anything else weird? You can still find plenty of shooting success, you’ll just have another variable to contend with.
What’s most important about these games, I think, is to establish a consistent rhythm. Don’t grab one ball at a time, line up a shot, and let it rip—you’ll waste valuable seconds. Think quantity over quality. You are a shooting machine, not a sniper. Use the first few shots to gauge how much force you’ll need to put the ball in the basket (nothing but net is easier and faster than banking the ball off the backboard), and then make sure you’re queueing up a new ball the second you’ve released your shot. Repeat as necessary for however many seconds the game runs. Celebrate your insane score.
And if you really want to impress your friends with your arcade-basketball skills, there’s always the two-handed approach:
This one gives me anxiety, as I have always been terrible at Skee-Ball and will likely always be terrible at Skee-Ball. While I feel like mastering this game is all about practice and repetition, apparently bending your knees while you throw is a good method for ensuring you aren’t bouncing the ball on the lane—affecting the accuracy of your shot—instead of gently rolling it up. When in doubt, make like Lil Jon and get low to the ground.
While some people simply aim for the hole, I’ve found that others like to bank the ball into the hole by targeting a specific spot on the wall near the hole you want. It’s a lot easier to see this in action than visualize it, so here’s an example of what I mean:
As always, maintaining a consistent form is key. The more you play, the more you’ll start to figure out the pattern for exactly how far back you’ll want to bring your arm, how much force you’ll want to apply to the ball, et cetera. Your stance is critical, too, as Skee-Ball team captain CarneyVorous wrote last year:
“You’d never think it, but skeeball is 80% lower body. Your stance is the most important part of your game. Everyone’s stance is unique so figure out where your feet need to be in order for you to be most comfortable and get the velocity you want. For my stance, I need my left foot firmly planted and lined up with the inner edge of the left bumper. My right leg crosses behind my left and my right foot is up on the tip of the toes, so I’m balancing a bit with my core and also pushing myself forward a bit.”
Also, when you’re just getting a feel for the game, don’t be afraid to go for lower points. Tempting as it might be to start tossing your ball at the hardest corner spot—a hundred points, or however your game counts it—going for the top spot in the center, or the one slightly below it (for fewer points), is a fine strategy. You don’t want to burn yourself out by consistently missing the hardest shot when you can build your muscle memory and earn more points, in general, by targeting something a little easier.
Air hockey also gives me anxiety, because I invariably end up playing one of my friends who likes smashing the puck like an angry Hulk. Speed is important to winning at air hockey, since it’s a lot easier to block a turtle than a bullet, but mastering the game involves two words: control and offense.
While you can probably get away with just slamming straight-on shots at novice players, better air hockey players will be able to defend against that pretty well—unless you’re great at fake-outs. Attacking on the angle is trickier to block. And even if your opponent is successful, you might have a shot at a quick straightaway (or another angled attack) on the part of the goal they’ve left expose. That’s especially true if they weren’t able to add much power to their block and you can capitalize on the ricochet.
Exploiting your opponent’s natural tendency to move their defense in the same direction as your offense can also be a quick and easy way to win:
While you can’t ignore defense in air hockey, I think you’ll find more success—especially against more amateur players—by going after them like a sith. If you’re taking four times as many shots on goal as your opponent, you’re going to have much better odds of scoring and, with luck, you’ll wear them out from the barrage of flying pucks.
If, or when, you need to take a bit of a breather, use the triangle technique to protect your goal:
One thing I haven’t addressed in this brief roundup of tips is your grip. That’s a highly personal choice, so I don’t have any great strategies for you there, other than noting that whatever grip you use should give you lots of striking power via the fingers, wrist, and arm. Don’t grip the center of striker like you’re grabbing the emergency break on your car; try placing a combination of fingers in the curved groove between the center and the edges, which should help your speed, striking, and subterfuge.
How easy it looks. You stare at a screen, you tap a button to align a block on top of the block below it, and you repeat this a bunch of times until your stack touches the top of the screen. You then win a huge amount of tickets, some amazing prize, or the validation that you defeated one of the harder games your arcade offers.
First off, let me offer this sobering advice: If it’s a digital game, those who manage it can mess with how the game works—be it the game’s overall difficulty, the payouts, et cetera. That’s why I stick to games that require more physical skills, but it’s hard to deny the incredible payouts some of these trickier titles can give out (if you win).
I am terrible at Stacker (and similar variants, like the game where you’re balancing blocks on each other), so I’ll leave it to the pros to help out with this one. As one Stacker enthusiast wrote:
First trick is never listen to the music. It sounds like the beat matches the movement of the blocks, and it does- at first. But the closer you get to the top, the more and more slightly askew the music is to the movement, it’s meant to throw you off.
Secondly, never build in the center of the screen. When the blocks move from side to side, they slide right off the screen, then “bounce back” onto the screen. That “bounce back” time can VARY, even slightly, and can throw off your game. By picking one side -for me, I pick the right, as I am left handed- and build the stack there, as it gives me the longest time to prepare for my next strike as the blocks move across the screen.
Building the stack in the center is the WORST idea, as it gives you the least amount of time after a “bounce back” from the edge to react, but everyone tends to use the center thinking it’s the best place. Every win I’ve had is by building a tower against the side of the screen.
And third, examine the large prizes. Is the machine stocked right up? If so, odds are it was recently refilled, and the odds of a win are lower. If you visit the same machine twice a few days/weeks apart, and the items are the different/missing, a win has occurred, also resetting the win counter. However, if you visit it a few days/weeks apart and the large prizes are the same, your odds are much better as there’s been plays, but no wins.
Sounds easy, right?
You’ve surely seen this game (or some variation of this game) before. If not, here’s the basic setup: There’s a big circle with a bunch of lightbulbs (or LEDs). You insert your quarter/token/whatever, and the bulbs or LEDs cycle to create the illusion of a single “light” spinning around the circle. When you hit the button, the light stops on whatever bulb or LED its on, and you get a certain reward. Your goal is to stop the light on the jackpot spot, which is a lot easier said than done.
This game appears like it’s all physical skill and timing—certainly true—but that doesn’t mean that it’s locked down. Again, those who set the game up in their establishment can adjust the game’s difficulty as they see fit. As one Redditor describes:
“Back when I played, the difficulty setting for the jackpot was 6 milliseconds. To put this in perspective, a few things: The timing window available to the operator is between 2 and 20 milliseconds. The out of the box factory setting for Spin-N-Win is 5 milliseconds. And back then I was able to hit roughly 1 out of 4 games, and ‘Captain Fecktard’ – the AP that is not in good graces at our store, was banned previously and then allowed to return – was often averaging closer to 1 out of 3. At this point, AP was viable on Spin – but TOO viable as there were people that didn’t have any sense of what makes for a reasonable payout limit hammering it elsewhere.
When Global Settings were introduced, shortly after Tippin’ Bloks had its software changed, the setting was changed to 4 milliseconds.
I could no longer hit 1 out of every 4 at this setting, and for the brief time I tried to play it like this was getting closer to 1/8.
That said, there are stores that are not set to the standard. I won’t say ‘set correctly’ because there are, in some states, legal regulations regarding games of skill that require them to have a higher window for the jackpot. Arcade laws are weird. NO, I will not mention specific stores, because I don’t trust this forum of (currently) 5,163 subscribers to not have at least 20-50 people that would either start going every night or possibly staying for 12 hours open to close on a Wednesday and go murder it.”
Is there a trick to Spin-N-Win? Yes. And it’s almost one-hundred percent mental. If you’re having a slump or just not getting the timing right, the onus is on you to walk away. It might not be your fault; the game might just be set in such a way that it’s incredibly difficult to nail the exact jackpot light you’re targeting. I’m sure you can get the win every now and then, but why waste countless quarters/tokens/credits on something so difficult?
Conversely, if you find a Spin-N-Win (or similar game) that you’re destroying, don’t assume that’s going to be the case for every iteration of that game you run into. If you can, stay on that game for as long as possible, because you’ve found the diamond in the rough that’s going to pay off big—I hope.
Again, another incredibly easy game—you position a crane over a prize, you hit a button, and the claw magically drops down and grabs whatever you want. Simple as that.
If you’ve ever sunk a few bucks into one of these arcade games, you probably already get the sense that they’re not what they appear to be at first glance. The claw on the end of your crane always seems to be about as strong as a newborn baby, and would probably struggle to lift a loofah, let alone the huge stuffed animal you’re hoping to win.
In this case, there’s no real strategy you can use to win the prizes you seek, aside from the obvious tips of “make sure your claw is landing where you want it to go” and “try to go for prizes that aren’t really packed in there.” I think the best approach is to consider the line from War Games before you waste your time and money:The only winning move is not to play.
According to one arcade owner, who was quoted in a 2012 article on Smithsonian.com:
Most machines have a CMS (Command Module Settings) which allow the owner to change a couple factors:
* Chance of winning. Win/Loose, typically 1/12 In Cali or 1/15 In Nevada!
* PSI of claw. Most claws are 5-8 PSI requiring 10-13 to grab an item. Note, the setting module for the PSI is usually manual, there are springs on the claw that have little red marks. The module will tell you which mark to tighten the spring for the desired effect 🙂
* Cost/Accepted Money. Either DBA(Dollar Bill Acceptor) or Coin
Under California law my claws are set to 1/12 which means 1/12 players will have a chance to win. The example I used before is a ‘toy’ requires 10 PSI to lift. My claw during 11/12 tries will apply 4-6 PSI, or just enough to shuffle it or barely pick it up. During the 1/12 tries the claw will apply 9-11 PSI, sometimes picking it up and dropping, some successful 🙂
And, no, your “align the key with the hole so you win a prize” game isn’t much better. From that same Reddit thread quoted in the Smithsonian piece:
“When the tech came to install it he asked ‘’Do you want auto-lose installed?’
I was like ‘What?? Auto lose? Sounds fishy?’
Turns out that particular machine has an algorithm that knows each X/Y/Z of the key hole. So say in order to win a prize your key needs to be at 50/50/10. if you correctly line it up at 50/50/50 the position is relayed to a CMS that slight adds a 1 or 2 degree alteration to keep you from winning. The only way to fix this is aim low and left/right until you find the way the machine is changing it.”
The ‘Jump Rope’ game
Ah, Jumpin’ Jackpot. While this is probably one of the few arcade games that might actually cause you to break a sweat while you’re trying to win tickets, you don’t have to get a leg cramp to beat the machine on this one.
The premise of the game is simple. A light travels around in a circle. Your job is to jump so it doesn’t “hit” you—really, so it isn’t activated at the same time you’re standing on the pressure-sensitive pad.
The trick to win this one is easy. So long as the arcade’s operators don’t give you grief, don’t stand on the pad at all. Instead, use your hands to simulate jumping. You’ll be a lot more accurate—and a lot less tired if your plan is to park yourself on this game for some time.
You have to play video games with your children. It isn’t optional anymore. It’s your parental responsibility. Your child is growing up in an electronically mediated world, where the line between “virtual” and “real” life is becoming more and more blurred.
Like it or not, video games are your kid’s introduction to the future, and it’s your job as a parent to help them understand and navigate the virtual world safely and decently. Plus gaming with your kids is super-fun, and will bring you closer together. Like they say: The family that plays together, stays together.
“But I haven’t touched a video game since they took the Defender machine away from the Pizza Palace!” you might say. Hey, I got you. Getting started gaming isn’t that hard, and you already have a great teacher that you tuck into bed every night.
Let your kid pick the game
Maybe you envision yourself playing educational games with your children, games without violence, but with positive life-affirming messages and possibly bunny rabbits. But, just between us, if you’re a non-gamer, you probably don’t know what’s fun for a kid. So let them pick what you play together. You might be pleasantly surprised by their choices.
I’m pretty liberal about letting my kid try different kinds of games, so my 12-year-old Dex has played all but the most extremely violent titles, and he genuinely prefers creative games to shooters or Grand Theft Auto 5. He’s been playing Minecraft for years, graduating from a five-year-old running away from creepers to learning the basics of design and electrical engineering through building elaborate mansions and Redstone machinery on a server he set up with his school friends. It’s educational as hell, but I never tell him that.
If your older child does happen to be into more violent or intense games, I wouldn’t immediately sweat it. When I was a kid, I used to love playing “Vietnam” in the woods with my friends, and that was easily as violent as Battlefield. But decisions about the appropriateness of any content are up to you as a parent. On the topic of violence in video games and a link to actual aggression, there has been lots of research and no clear conclusions. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you check games’ ratings, such as those put out by Common Sense Media, and avoid games in which “killing others is the central theme.”
Learn to play
Now that the game is chosen, you have to get over your fear of actually playing it. If you don’t game, the learning curve can be steep—those controllers have a lot of buttons and things move very fast—but, at the very least, your kid will at be amused by your fumbling attempts and ridiculous deaths. They might even learn something about overcoming fear and stepping out of comfort zones to try new things, so just get in there and suck, ya noob! You’ll get (marginally) better as you play more, I swear.
Once you’re comfortable with the basics of a game, let your child guide you. Let them show you how to get the power-ups and how to beat the boss level. Talk to them about strategies to employ and possible solutions to puzzles. They’ll love the opportunity to play the teacher and reverse the traditional parent/child roles, and if you’re playing something competitive, they’ll definitely love the chance to whip a new player’s butt, especially since it’s Mom or Dad!
Kids don’t have a lot of power, so giving it to them in a virtual sense is always fun, but more importantly, they’ll see how you handle yourself. This gives you a golden opportunity to model behavior. If you always play fair, show good humor in the face of frustration, remain respectful, and keep your composure whether winning or losing, they’ll notice, and it will sink in better than just saying the words.
Talk about what you play
Once you (somewhat) understand the world your kids play in, you’ll be in a much better place to interpret, explain and contextualize their experiences, and that’s pretty much your entire job as a parent. This is especially important when gaming with younger kids. Guiding your child toward more creative and positive content in games while steering them away from disturbing or overly mature content can help them develop the skills to make the same kinds of positive choices for themselves later on.
When they get older, you can use the content of the games to more abstract and intellectual things. Dex and I used to talk about the moral implications of killing creatures in Minecraft, conversations that would have been impossible without both of us really understandingthe mechanics of the game.
When it comes to teaching healthy game-playing habits, the best thing you can do for your child is to lead by example. When Dex was just a little guy, he and I played Lego: Star Wars together for hours. But when it was time for me to do the dishes and him to go to bed, it was easy to say, “I want to keep playing too, buddy, but I gotta do the chores and you gotta get some sleep.”
Now that he’s entered tween-hood, the lesson seems to have sunk in … most of the time. He might grumble a little sometimes if I tell him to turn off Smash Bros. and practice his violin, but it’s not going to be major drama. He knows the rules, but more importantly, he knows that the rules make sense and are fair and humane. For instance, if it’s bedtime, but he’s in the top ten in Fortnite, I’m gonna give him a couple extra minutes to go for the victory royale (I’m not a monster). If I didn’t know what any of that meant, and just said, “Okay, screen time’s over” and pulled the plug on his Xbox, it would create needless conflict, and really, who needs the hassle?
The main reason you should play games with your kid is because it’s flat-out awesome. I love playing video games with my kid. It’s a way of spending time with my favorite person, doing something we both enjoy. We’re not usually “bonding” as if we’re in a very special episode of an old sitcom. I don’t spend much time trying to impart life lessons or instill good moral behavior. We’re just chilling on the couch, killing aliens, killing each other, and killing a little time before dinner. In another time or another place, we might be sitting in a rowboat with our fishing poles out, not talking and not catching fish. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
I’ve never been good at Minesweeper, and I think I must have been at least half my age the last time I played the game. It’s hard to make the click-you’re fine, click-you’re dead gameplay sexy, but Google has done an admirable job with its open-source iteration, Proxx.
The fun part of Proxx isn’t that it’s an updated version of the game with gorgeous graphics and animations (as far as Minesweeper goes). That’s not why Google invested time resurrecting this Windows 3.1-era classic. The genius of the web-based game is that it works on basically everything: from your smartphone to your old T9 feature phone that’s collecting dust in a drawer somewhere. Also, the game is only 100KB big in total, requires a mere 18KB download before you’re able to interact with it, and it renders at a consistent 60 frames per second.
“Smart feature phones such as KaiOS phones are rapidly gaining popularity. These are very resource constrained devices, but our approach of using web workers whenever we can allowed us to make the experience highly responsive on these phones as well. Since feature phones come with different input interface (d-pad and number keys, no touchscreen), we also implemented key-based interface,” writes Google’s Mariko Kosaka, one of the project’s developers.
To get started, simply hit up the Proxx website and pick your difficulty. You can also manually adjust size of your mine-filled field and set how many “black holes” you want, if you’re feeling adventurous. (Black holes are the “mines” that you don’t want to click on.)
If you’ve been living in a cave for the past 30+ years and you don’t know how to ‘sweep, here’s a quick primer. Click on a square. If it’s a mine, you lose. Game over. If it’s not a mine, the square clears. Neighboring squares also clear if there are no mines surrounding them. Eventually, you’ll see squares with numbers in them. That’s how many mines are surrounding said square—either in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal direction.
If you think you’ve figured out where a mine is, you can switch the setting from “clear” to “flag” at the bottom and mark the potential problem on your grid. (You can also right-click to flag mines, if you’re playing in your browser). Flagging a mine means you won’t accidentally click on it when you switch back to “clear,” and it’ll help you keep track of what is and isn’t (likely) a mine. Keep clearing and flagging until you blow up or find all the free spaces. Enjoy the eternal frustration that is Minesweeper.
To learn a bit more about how (and why) Google built Proxx, check out these two talks from this year’s Google I/O developer conference:
Over the last few months, we’ve spoken with laptop makers, gamers, and historians to get a better understanding of the gamer aesthetic. You know what I’m talking about: Blinking lights and sharp angles. Computers that look like they fell off an alien spaceship. Crucially, we wanted to know how we got this gamer aesthetic to begin with, and what is going to happen to it as gaming becomes more mainstream. In the video above we examine the aesthetic’s history and its future.
The history might surprise you. Most of us know someone who identifies as a gamer, and we know that that identity is only partially about the act of playing video games. It’s a lifestyle more than a simple expression of a hobby, and those who embrace it wrap their arms lovingly around the aesthetic.
You can trace the origins back to ad campaigns for the Sega Genesis in the early 90s. The company wasn’t selling consoles as well as rival Nintendo wanted to set itself apart. Where Nintendo was family-friendly and wholesome, Sega started to market the Genesis as a dangerous alternative fit for cool young guys who scoffed at authority and could handle blood and guts in their games (or a fast blue hedgehog).
The Dreamcast would be marketed to these kids in a similar fashion. Same with the PlayStation. By the time the Xbox launched in 2001, that identity had crystallized.
Alienware was one of the first PC makers to market specifically to that new gamer identity. Alienware made a name for itself in the late 90s creating powerful gaming PCs, but at first, they still looked like every other beige box—designed to be innocuous and non-threatening. In 2003 Alienware created a new design language for its PCs. These new laptops and towers were festooned in colorful plastic, with accent lights and aggressively alien designs. Up until that point, the only real and consistent outlier in PCs was Apple. No one was making a Windows-based computer that looked like what Alienware was producing. It quickly became the inspiration for PC makers who wanted to tap into the gamer market, and even today, its designs inspire other PC makers.
In 2011, Razer slid into the gaming laptop market with the Blade, upsetting the balance and providing a sleek alternative to Alienware. Razer laptops are thin (relatively speaking), the lights are a little more subdued, and the design is a little less aggressive. That lack of perceived aggression in the design—and the improved portability versus a 2-inch thick laptop from companies like Alienware or MSI has made Razer laptops popular. And they’re not just popular with consumers. As with Alienware, Razer devices have inspired other PC makers to design devices that don’t aggressively scream gamer quite so much.
The shift is happening—whether gamers like it or not. As gaming continues to grow more and more hardware makers are going to try to appeal to the broader market. Which means the schism between thin and light and bulky and powerful will continue to grow.