Researchers: video games can strengthen adult-child relationships

Research from two ASU professors proves that playing video games together leads to better communication skills between adults and children.

Professors Elisabeth Hayes and Sinem Siyahhan conducted focus groups at the ASU Preparatory Academies in downtown Phoenix and at the Polytechnic campus to better understand parental feelings toward video games.

The focus groups led Hayes and Siyahhan to observe that most parents weren’t very knowledgeable when it came to video games, and many were concerned about the potential detriments they could cause.

Intergenerational video game play is defined as any kind of video game interaction involving adults and children.

Hayes said they are particularly interested in the interaction between a parent or caregiver and a child and how video games can lead to a better relationship.

“Games can involve families and collaborative problem solving, giving them a chance to work together to solve an issue,” Hayes said. “Video games allow children to become equals with their parent, giving them a chance to take on the role of expert while developing different communication skills.”

With the help of Josephine Marsh, a professor in residence at the ASU Preparatory Academies, Hayes and Siyahhan were able to assess parents’ interest in participating in focus groups and an after-school program later down the road.

“(We) met to discuss their idea to design an after-school program for families,” Marsh said. “The general idea was to develop a program that would give adults and children the chance to play video games together, discover how these games can support learning in areas such as science and literacy and strengthen family relationships.

Hayes said some parents who attended were gamers, while other parents were against their children playing games but were interested in learning about a video game’s educational benefits.

Hayes said during the focus groups, parents and their children were questioned on how games are handled in the household, what rules are in place when using the internet or a cellphone and what parents wanted to learn about video games.

Students in the computer gaming, learning and literacy class play video games to learn strategy for real life situations. Some students play the game while others observe.  Creative writing and communications senior Tyler Fleck directed his team on what to do while playing Spaceship Artimes. Computer science sophomore Alex Rempel on the right, computer science junior Andrew Melnik on the left and digital cultures sophomore Katrina Peters in the back. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

Students in the computer gaming, learning and literacy class play video games to learn strategy for real life situations. Some students play the game while others observe. Creative writing and communications senior Tyler Fleck directed his team on what to do while playing Spaceship Artimes. Computer science sophomore Alex Rempel on the right, computer science junior Andrew Melnik on the left and digital cultures sophomore Katrina Peters in the back. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

Hayes and Siyahhan are in the process of creating a series of family game nights at the preparatory academies. They plan to begin in February.

Siyahhan said even parents who have concerns about video games are intrigued by them.

She said they hope to engage parents and give them a chance to learn at the family game nights.

“Our ultimate goal is to create programs that can be implemented in different settings,” Siyahhan said. “Family game nights will give us the observational data needed to create games to support this intergenerational interaction.”

Hayes said parents and children should find games that are appealing to all players and easy to understand and play.

She said parents should take an interest in what their child is playing and ask questions about the game.

Parents with middle schoolers should pay extra attention, Hayes said, because they are at an age where they can find trouble communicating with parents and other adults. This can lead to a more positive relationship and critical thinking skills.

Hayes also created an undergraduate certificate in games for impact to be offered in the fall.

The certificate, which was approved this year, will consist of 15 credits and focus on helping students see the educational benefits of games.

It will also teach students how to design or use existing games for educational purposes.

To receive the certificate, students must complete a group capstone projectin which they will create games that can be used in a real world situation.

Students will have the opportunity to partner with other businesses to design games for specific purposes in the education and medical field.

Hayes is pilot testing Understanding Games for Impact, one of the courses in the certificate. The class uses the gameplay experience to analyze the impact of the games.

Hayes said students in the course will play games competitively or collaboratively while identifying different learning methods.

Digital culture senior Isabel Carreno, who is enrolled in the course, said she is interested in seeing how games and learning can relate.

“I didn’t think you could relate the two,” Carreno said. “I now understand that any game has some type of learning element, whether it’s learning to play the game or solving something while playing.”

Reach the reporter at ppineda@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @paulinapineda22