Could gaming be good for you? More than that, could it be good for your family too? There’s plenty of evidence that gaming is linked to positive outcomes in education and social interaction for children, but families that game together also enjoy other benefits.

We know from our own experiences that gaming is better with friends and family, but we wanted to understand why. As it turns out, gaming with your child could even teach them how to teach you, or maybe even how to get along with a fractious sibling.

To get a better idea of the potential of family gaming, we talked to Dr. Marcus Carter from the University of Sydney. Dr Carter is Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures, a Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) Fellow, and Degree Director at Sydney Uni’s Masters of Digital Culture and Communications course. He’s an expert when it comes to the science and academia of gaming, and a fountain of knowledge on the topic.

Hi, Marcus. First up: how can families approach gaming together? Is gaming something to be enjoyed solo sometimes, as much as it can also be a social activity?

Co-play is a really great mediation strategy for digital games, and Minecraft Dungeons is a really great game for this because it’s so accessible to both new and experienced players.

The reason that co-play is a great way to approach your children’s gaming is that family participation with games facilitates social interactions and learning. Parent perspectives and behaviour while playing influences how children understand their media experience and react to things like loss, challenges, and how children develop important sportsmanship and teamwork skills. Digital games are also a great way for siblings to play together as most digital games are appealing to a broader range of ages than other media.

Parents playing games with their children is also great because it’s an opportunity for parents to let their kids be the expert and take on an educator role. Let your kids teach you how to play Minecraft to better understand what they find so fun and appealing about the game – and give them the opportunity to be the expert in the parent-child relationship for once!

There’s also nothing wrong – in moderation – with children playing games on their own. Even single-player games are social, as kids will often discuss them with their friends and school, just like we do with TV and movies.

Is competition or co-operation more useful for bringing a family together while they’re gaming? Is there a genre or style of game that lends itself to family interaction and gameplay?

Co-operative games are often thought to be better for family play because they don’t pit family members – particularly siblings! – against each other, but that doesn’t mean competitive games aren’t good too.

Some co-operative games might not be suitable for players of widely different skill levels, but well-designed competitive games can be great for creating social interactions and experiences outside of the game. Use competitive games to show your kids the right way to deal with winning and losing, and co-operative games to encourage teamwork and communication skills.

What would you say to parents who are worried that “games are addictive”? What are some of the positive impacts you see from exposing children and teens to the world of gaming?

Just like books, radio, film and TV – which were all at some stage accused of being addictive for children – games are not ‘addictive’. They are an appealing hobby, enthusiastically engaged in, but parents shouldn’t misinterpret this desire as problematic compulsion or addiction. We wouldn’t call someone ‘addicted’ to books just because they wanted to read another chapter of Harry Potter after bedtime!

The risk of calling all video games addictive is that children might miss out on the benefits of playing games. We know that games are really good for children’s creativity and imagination, and are an engaging way to develop their problem-solving skills, spatial skills, and strategic decision-making abilities. Games are also challenging, and the skills that children develop to understand how to solve those problems are broadly applicable to the kinds of independent learning and digital literacy skills that see kids really succeed in schools.

But in addition to all these instrumental benefits, we’ve also got to remember that games are an enormous amount of fun, and kids need to have fun! Whether it’s to de-stress, relax, or have positive social experiences with friends, the play of digital games is – in moderation – as important as non-digital play.

How do skills acquired from games translate into the real world? How does playing games affect the rest of your world – are there parts of life that gamers are “better” at?

Games are great for learning a wide variety of direct and indirect skills. Games help make kids comfortable and confident with computers, crucial for setting kids up for success in school and in later life. The skills children develop when they learn how to solve the problems they’re faced with in games are broadly applicable to the kinds of independent learning and digital literacy skills that see kids really succeed in schools. Single-player games can be fantastic ways for children to learn about the world, from topics like history to sport, and multiplayer games are also proven grounds for developing communication skills, teamwork, conflict resolution and leadership. You can learn all these things in other ways, but they probably aren’t as fun and engaging as games!

What would you say to the unfamiliar parent who wants to give games a go for themselves? Should they just pick up a controller and see what happens – or is there a better way to learn?

I always recommend to parents who want to learn more about how to play games to ask their children how to play! Think about how many times kids get to be the ‘expert’ with their parents, and how rare it is for a child to get to teach their parents how to do something. This is why playing games with your kids can be a really positive experience, because it’s an opportunity for your children to share something that is important and meaningful to them.

It doesn’t have to be something you just do with your kids either, plenty of parents are playing games too! The controller can be intimidating at first, but after some practice it will fade away and you’ll be able to confidently play in virtual worlds alongside your kids, and on your own too.