I recently convinced my husband that we should purchase a Nintendo Switch that included three months free of online membership.

Prior to convincing my husband, my eldest son convinced me why making this purchase was a good idea.

You see my eldest son has always played video games, just as my younger son did growing up. He never became addicted to gaming and has a healthy relationship with it. He and his wife enjoy playing the occasional nostalgic Super Mario games in the evening, to wind down after work or for weekend entertainment. 

Whenever we get together, in person, we always play card, word, or board games. But we haven’t been able to get together through the pandemic and miss this play time. And although I have never shown much interest in playing video games since my sons have left home, I did sometimes enjoy playing with my boys when they were growing up.

So, he asked me to consider making this recent purchase and joining him and his wife online in playing the game, Mario Party, so we could spend more time together. 

My immediate thought was that I would love nothing more than to spend extra time visiting with my son and his wife online. I adore both of them. My second thought was that I have always maintained, in my books, my presentations, and my coaching that I am not anti-gaming. I have suggested that there is great value in playing, and I have encouraged parents to play with their children, not only as part of an addiction prevention strategy, but also as a way to stay close and learn more about their child(ren) during their development. And yet, I was not gaming.

My third thought was that I could play some Mario Party, have fun with my family (including my husband), and also use this time for research. How would I feel playing? Would I truly feel the benefits of this popular and growing recreational pastime? Would I understand better what the draw is to play for several hours at a time, even if I only played for an hour?

And then, of course, I wondered how my youngest son, who is in addiction recovery almost four years now, would feel about my husband and I buying and playing video games? It is not something he would ever be able to join in and play with us. As it turns out, he is quite fine with the idea and encouraged us to just go for it!

The console arrived via courier a few days ago. I have to admit, the package sat on the counter the first afternoon and I didn’t touch it. It actually scared me a little. Although I am considered an expert in gaming addiction, I am by no means an expert on how to play video games, never mind setting up the system, purchasing and loading games, or setting up the online membership!

But with my son’s encouragement through our text chat, I took the leap and set up my new Nintendo Switch, purchased and loaded Mario Party onto my system, and somehow managed to connect online and start playing with my son and his wife. And I laughed and had a really fun time. I look forward to playing again. 

Of course, we’re not playing complicated games; they’re simple and easy to learn. I’m just not that good! We won’t be playing on a daily basis, perhaps not even on a weekly basis. And I know I won’t be graduating to any complex single shooter, mass multi-player virtual expeditions. But I can honestly say that I am now a gamer, proving that I am definitely not anti-gaming. 

As I continue to play and perhaps purchase other Nintendo Switch games (I already have my eye on Mario Tennis), I will, for that short time, understand the desire to chill and escape into the virtual world just for fun, just as I have always understood going to the theater and escaping for a couple hours in a great film is good for me. I understand the skills learned in gaming, such as tenacity, problem solving, and hand-eye coordination and can translate these to my life in other forms. 

As the pandemic has forced us to spend more time in isolation, I understand the need for more social connection through online gaming. And I get why gaming has increased by 75% worldwide since COVID-19 took hold. It’s really quite enjoyable!

But I will also continue to be aware that too much of a good thing can be dangerous, and that educating caregivers on gaming addiction will continue to still be my top priority.