Expert children’s bookseller and debut author, Lorraine Levis releases a manual for parents and educators to help children develop a love of reading
Of everything in this book, the opinion I express here could be one of the most controversial … I think children should play more video games. I hope you will stick with me. I was a child in one of the golden ages of video games. The NES and SNES, the first PlayStation and the advent of the portable gaming console known as the Game Boy meant that we had a brand new way of spending our free time.
We talk a lot about today’s children having so many different things vying to attract their attention, most of it summarised by the phrase ‘looking at screens’. This evokes images of lethargic children with their necks cricked, bloodshot eyes just inches away from the screen. You imagine what they’re looking at, basically just ads for violence and stealing, not to mention what’s in the games themselves. I grew up with my peers bragging about playing Grand Theft Auto when they were twelve, and I was lucky to have been so innocent that I didn’t understand half of what they were saying, but I knew it was stuff that I didn’t need to be hearing about. Not to mention hearing on the news and in public discussion generally about how ultra-violent video games are causing a rise in violent behaviour.
The media does not present a good view of gaming as a hobby, but I believe that there is value to be found in video games as in any other art form, even at the same level as reading. I know this book is specifically about helping you to raise your child to be a reader and this may seem to be straying away from that, but I do think two of the most important skills you can teach a child are critical and artistic thinking, both of which can be gleaned from reading and, you guessed it, playing video games. Video games are another way for you to understand the world your child is living in and make a connection with them. I’m not saying they won’t try to banish you from the room when they’re playing, but taking an interest and striking up a conversation with them is never a bad idea.
So, how can we get value out of video games beyond them being a distraction? First of all, not everything a child does has to have educational value or be attached to a developmental stage, nor does it have to bring them anything other than joy. Many video games allow children to relax their minds and focus on something else after a long day of learning at school. Allowing your child to have enjoyable hobbies, even if you don’t understand them yourself, is crucially important for the development of their sense of identity and independence.
How can you turn your child’s obsession with video games into something productive? It already is productive! Imagine a book where you get to make all of the decisions and the action is played out in real time. You can stop and look around the amazing settings if you want; you’re no longer restricted to the words on the page. In many cases, if you don’t like the direction you’re headed in, you can find something else to do and come back to the main storyline at another point. If things get too intense, you can go away and wait until you’re stronger before dealing with it. You can invite your friends to join the adventure with you, as if they were reading the same book as you at exactly the same time.
That, in essence, is what modern gaming is all about. That is what you need to understand in order to make the connection with what your children are connecting with. Even games with mindless shooting now have a plot to go with them. Many are extremely perceptive about the modern world and use real-world logic. Shooter games are often set in real war zones, while sci-fi games often follow a strict set of rules.
There are even some games where the plot isn’t action driven, but character driven, and you find yourself so attached to the people you are playing as that it can feel like you’re mourning them when you finally put down the con- troller, much like you do when you finish a great book!
I’m not recommending that you should allow your child to play video games all the time. Looking at a monitor for too long causes eye strain and the behavioural issues that stem from any form of competitive activity should be kept in check. However, the world of video games is not restricted to teenage boys in dark bedrooms never coming into the light. They have become a genre-based media, and games for all tastes are being released.
Writing for video games is just as legitimate a form of artistic expression as any other writing and it’s certainly a much more sociable one. From development to actually playing the game, gaming is a team effort.
So, if you find you have a child who seems to be stuck in an online world, don’t assume that they are too far away to be connected with. Sometimes you just need to make the effort to go to them. You never know, you might find you like it!
Look into books in the same genre as the games they like to play. If you have someone who is obsessed with Call of Duty and shooting games, try some historical war fiction or books that are set in modern war zones (Andy McNab has an amazing series along these lines). The same goes for sci-fi and fantasy – find what your kid is attracted to in the games and work with it!
Video games are a great gateway into books too. Most of the biggest game series have novelisations that follow the original plot, as well as having what is called an ‘expanded universe’ with the back stories and dedicated series for different characters that may not have had much screen time or development in the game itself. Video games, in their pursuit of the ultimate interactive experience, can sometimes lack the time and scope to flesh out the world around the plot. That is where the books come in. The amazing scenes that are shown in these games can be reproduced through the written word with a much smaller budget, so you get a lot more story for far less investment.
Exclusive extract from Once Upon A Reader: Raising Your Children With a Love of Books by Lorraine Levis, published by Currach Books (2020)