Gaming + Friendship: Why It Works

Before the pandemic, neither of my kids used Facetime for more than weekly grandparent check-ins. They didn’t know what Google Hangouts/Duo was, much less Discord. They shared my Apple account, and it was rare we picked up another person’s friend calling on the wrong device. Now we all have all of those things, plus Apple IDs, independent messaging and email for each child, aged 9 and 10.

I was leery, but gaming with friends has turned out to be an awesome way to practice social interactions with real-life consequences. And because my kids game with people they already know, I’m able to see the progress of their relationships.* Even when we’re busy or travelling, the kids don’t lose touch with their people – or feel left out. This is a shift in our family’s relationship-building techniques, and a major value add.

One of the situations we’ve navigated is understanding tone, the importance of carefully choosing words in texts and emails. Emojis sometimes help with funny stuff, but never when we’re angry. Let’s face it: it’s gonna be easier to push send on a line of poop emojis without seeing the hurt on your friend’s face as she receives them than to tell her you’re hurt because she didn’t want to play Wolf World 3,000,0021** as your mohawked pup.

Early this year, we had a situation where a friend called me to say her kid’s feelings got hurt over the group chat, which we could both read. There was some intense language in the conversation that made us both uncomfortable and we discussed where to go next with that issue. I was relieved that she called – in a time where it was clearly easier to just block us – and of course the whole thing was a misunderstanding. But because my kid had a lot of emotional skin in this friendship, he was motivated to fix it as quickly as possible.

Other than verbal snafus, the main, recurring issue has been timing fails. We mamas had many a text thread about what times in the day work best for the kids to connect. Sometimes nobody can play all week. Other weeks they chatted daily.

It helped my family to build a timeframe. Then my kids had to coordinate with friends – or miss them entirely. Some families are pretty strict on screen time, and others aren’t. Remember when you used to ride your bike to meet Lisa at the blue playground at 4 o’clock on Wednesdays? Limiting, yes, but also definitive. I knew if I missed that timeframe, Lisa wasn’t waiting long. Enter a period of disappointments when a kid wanted to finish watching his video instead of Minecraft while their friend was available. Like Lisa, that friend moved along. Lesson learned.

On top of scheduling, family discussions included personal responsibility – for iPad safety, internet safety + words used in play while you can’t see who’s in the room on the other side – and the unpleasant attitudes displayed when children have been seated for hours.

The good news is that with a summer pause in the sweeping pandemic, my kids walked back into their friendships without a hitch. They still felt loved and accepted, even if their in-person meets felt overwhelming at first. (To me, too.)

I use this gaming time to work for clients, or blog, or sometimes just do my online reading. Other times I read legit books with coffee and zero interruptions. I’ve become a serious fan of chirpy conversations, the happy voices of friends as background noise.

We’re going to continue the arranged schedule for gaming this fall, whether we meet in person weekly or not. Gaming time has proved sacred for all of us.

* I struggle with giving my kids the freedom they want and need on devices because it’s so different from the baby- and toddlerhood we spent outdoors. I know I entirely controlled that. It’s just that I miss it too. I need that, for myself. However, if they’re going to live lives they control and enjoy, now’s the time to practice!

**Sarcasm bonus!

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