PAX East 2019 filled the Boston Convention Center over the past weekend. I had the privilege of attending on Sunday, and what a day it was! I met some new people, played some pretty cool games, and joined my fellow gamers in a social space. My first convention experience was amazing. It felt so empowering to be surrounded by different types of people, knowing we all had the same things in common. While the exhibits were super impressive, the panels were the center of the show for me. Deep dive conversations on all my favorite topics, all squished together under the umbrella of gaming! Unfortunately my Cinderella pass was only good for one day, so I felt pressured to only pick one panel.
The one I attended surrounded issues of diversity and parenting in the video game space. The moderator and panelists were all from the Geek Family Network, of whom I had the pleasure of meeting after the panel ended. It felt amazing, and comforting to be with other parent gamers, who had once felt the shame of hiding their favorite hobbies. These parents saw all the same benefits of gaming and harnessing its power to support ourselves on our parenting journey, rather than as the enemy.
One fellow attendee asked how he could convince his spouse to accept gaming as a positive instead of a negative, a question I hear a lot as well. The conversation propelled me to think of our own family gaming journey, and how gaming has helped us. As one of the panelists said, the media often puts the focus on violent video games, the detriments of gaming, and stereotypes gamers as “never going outside” or “living in your mom’s basement”. While many stories focus on video gaming’s “addictive and isolating nature,” community building gets left out of the conversation. A lot of young adults are still living at home, and it has nothing to do with whether they play video games. Things like the economy, where you live in the United States, and other systemic factors come into play. To say it is video games are the cause, is a deep misunderstanding of affairs.
In fact, gaming offers many benefits that are often left out, which is why the panels at PAX East 2019 were so crucial. Problem Solving immediately came to mind. No matter what game you play, problem solving skills are used, tested, challenged, and stretched. I’m forced to think outside the box to find the path in games like Tomb Raider, or when solving riddles in games such as Professor Layton. I’ve asked for help when I’m stuck, from an in game tutorial, and others in the gaming community. People’s worlds expand when playing games, both inside and out. Minecraft, has helped numerous people find community. People all over the world come together and build to their heart’s content. Need educational games? Khan Academy and Prodigy use gaming to teach kids and track their progress through subjects. Exploration, critical thinking, problem solving, and math (yes, MATH), are just some of the things I’ve learned and taught, through games. As I said, the panel really made me think about my own relationship with gaming, including how it has helped my family. The one character who always comes to mind: Mario.
It’s only fitting that a character who originally debuted as “Jump man” in 1981, a tiny jumping plumber by Nintendo, would end up as my child’s first avatar. Super Mario Bros. was also my first Nintendo game, back in 1990. I spent hours in front of the television, running through levels as fast as I could. Mario was so FAST! Now jump forward to 2015, my child is relating to the same character, in the same game, but in his own way. He LOVED making Mario jump through the levels. They both loved to jump! They were the same! He started saying “Mario!” when he wanted to play, and “JUMP!” during playtime, sometimes bursting into giggles so contagious, we’d fall to the floor squeezing our bellies with delight. He was so happy! (representation matters)
He played Mario Odyssey on the Switch years later, where he worked to gain 100% completion, start over, and play through it again. Most of the time he would just explore the worlds, find something he loved doing, and then do that thing (stacking Goombas) for hours. When frustration hit, he wouldn’t ask for help all that much. He would simply grab a device, pull up his favorite Mario Youtuber, and watch what the streamer did. Then he would copy the same moves to achieve his goal, and then continue his exploration. If he still had trouble, after checking in with a streamer, he would ask for help. We were able to use Mario to motivate him to communicate verbally, because it became a focus and passion of his. Once he realized he could use his verbal words to communicate a want, it opened a door.
When kids are good at something, or want to be good at something, we should be using those likes and skills to challenge our kids in a healthy way. Through gaming, we can harness the ability to teach positive traits, life skills, educational topics, daily activities, communication, and so much more. I am grateful to everyone who worked hard to make PAX EAST 2019 an unforgettable experience. I am forever thankful to the moderators and panelists that took the time to share their stories, talk about the issues facing our community, of which there are many, and shine a light on why we love gaming in the first place. <3