What it’s like to have no limits on video games

Child playing video games on train

Here’s the update on my grand video game experiment: Unlimited video games has been great. If there is nothing my kids are supposed to be doing—feeding goats, practicing violin, taking a skateboard lesson—then they can play video games. I have not put limits on how much they play or what they play. I have even been very liberal about making purchases that they kids needed to play what they want. Here are some examples of what happened:

1. I realized the kids use the video games to squelch boredom.
There are times when life is boring. We all have those times. Even if you are homeschooled and you can pick anything in the world to do. There are boring times: waiting for dinner at a restaurant, driving to swimming, taking a break during a playdate.

These are times when I eat. They are times when I get very stressed and tell myself not to eat. Eating from boredom is bad. It will make me fat. Be in the moment. Feel that I am not hungry. I tell myself all these things, but still, I eat when I am bored. And I think, I wish so much that I could play video games when I am bored instead of eating.

2. One son started making movies.
Only 10% of Internet users are content creators. The rest just consume. I am convinced that the percentage of creators will go through the roof with Generation Z, and the line between content creator and content consumer will blur. But for right now, I have to tell you that I’m really proud to have two content creators.

I think I have mentioned 1000 times that creating content for the whole world on the Internet is much more educational than creating content for your teacher to read. The Stanford study that I have linked to a billion times found that Stanford students were better writers because they wrote for the Internet—they worked harder online to write well enough to get people to read and respond. The reward of the teacher reading and giving it a grade pales in comparison to social media.

So I bought $500 worth of equipment, not including the $1500 Mac we already had, so that my son could run the Wii through the computer and narrate games. This week, three people he has never met subscribed to his YouTube channel. My son was absolutely ecstatic. He is trying harder than ever to make his videos useful and entertaining, and he is doing things on the computer that are specialized and take tons of concentration and determination, and he makes me love that he plays video games.

3. One son started taking photos.
The DS has a built-in camera. So, since my son has his DS with him all the time, he also has his camera with him. He took photos at a Japanese restaurant in Chicago because he said he wanted to remember what the food looks like. He took pictures on the train when we went from NYC to New Jersey, and he noticed how cool it was that the photos were blurry. (That’s him, on the train, in the photo above.)

He uses the software to pixilate, exaggerate, and distort. And he is learning how to document his life and show the world as he sees it. He would not have realized he wanted to do this if I didn’t let him have his DS on all the time.

4. The kids with video-game naysayers as parents are totally annoying.
These kids come over to our house and they see all our video games (we have a lot) and it’s all they want to do. On his last playdate, my son asked me to tell his friend that video games are off limits for the rest of the playdate.

So I did.

The boy complained.

I said, “Why don’t you go home and tell your parents they should buy you some video games so you don’t have to go to someone else’s house to play?”

25 replies
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      A really nice microphone.

      A bunch of cables to get the Wii into the computer (instead of a TV).

      El Gato

      A second copy of his favorite Mario game so that he could win a level on one game and then show himself winning that level on video.


      • Joy
        Joy says:

        My son made his first minecraft youtube video using the screenflow when he was 5. It was really cute and sweet.

        He said he wanted to be polite in the video because he didn’t like some of youtube videos with bad words.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          awww! haha!

          Through reading this website called 9gag.com I’ve come to know a bit of the gamer world.

          There’s a gag that says “People who have sex with your mom: (pie chart) tiny percent: your dad, huge percent: online players of X online game.”

          I had no idea what they were talking about until I saw my brother playing with his friends!

  1. CMENN
    CMENN says:

    I recently found your site from “Asperger’s Tip of the Week.” My 11 year old son LOVES his 3DS and is obsessed with Pokemon. He is currently in a charter school, that operates as a private school and it has been so good for him. The school operates on PAKS, 80% of content mastery has to be achieved before advancing to the next PAK. Working at his own speed/level has been the best thing, he is flying through his work with ease. All this being said, he is allowed to bring his 3DS to school and play it when he has down time. He is such a rules guy, too. He knows that when it is time to work, you must work, when it is time to play, you can play. I am learning more and more about how his mind works, operates, and doesn’t… He has such deep love for his family, friends and others(especially little babies), but yet he isn’t able to identify when I hold my hand out to him to “STOP” “DON’T CROSS the Parking lot” he cannot calculate that in his mind. I wish almost that there was a Pokemon game that could help him with this, but at the same time I am sad, jealous and heartbroken that he LOVES Pokemon so much. I really liked what you were saying in your blog about equipment…. Just wished I knew what equipment I could get for him to help with Social interaction. Do you have any suggestions? My husband and I both want him to be successful in life, whatever he does, but ultimately I am not sure about Pokemon being his future. I know he would like to be a video game tester…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have found (by watching my kids use the computer) that YouTube is full of videos by gaming fanatics. Watching those videos (obsessively, of course) has been eye-opening for my son in terms of new ways to interact with people that leverage his video game knowledge.

      Watching him comment on another persons YouTube video makes me so happy. It’s not like that’s a replacement for a best friend, but it’s a start for how to find a potential friend, and that’s a skill, too.


  2. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    My 10-year-old loves the games Myst and Riven (apps available for iPhone). Both are great for building problem-solving skills. The games originally came out 10ish years ago, so they’re nothing new. But they’re still great. They’re cooler to play on a big screen with real speakers, but we had trouble finding a version that would work on our mac.

  3. CMENN
    CMENN says:

    Thanks Lisa! I am an Android user and I don’t own a mac, but I will see what I can do to get it for at home use.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m beginning to think that’s what homeschooling is … a grand experiment. And the results will be different by varying degrees for each combination of parent and child. Similar to being able to predict what will or will not make you happy, it’s hard to know what homeschooling techniques will work until you give them a go.

    • Mark K
      Mark K says:

      Excellent point Mark. Different families are going to have different needs at different times. So the best way to find what works best is keep experimenting.

  5. Joy
    Joy says:

    May I have the opposite “complaint”?

    I have invested lots of money on video games: ipad, computer, DS, a new Xbox 360 with kinect/gold membership/awesome microphone.

    My son, who is 6 years old now, had played minecraft day and night for 6 months straight. My husband was concerned that would be all he would do in his whole life.

    Now he hardly plays any video games.

    When kids are given choices, they will show their real interests. When kids are given lots of choices, you would be amazed how they choose.

    My son right now is into Lego (it has been his long time passion). He is also into math. He loves TV shows (right now it is Danny Phantom). Also he loves to travel. This morning, he just created a lego RV with many details since we are going to tour New Zealand in a RV. He cannot wait to go. I have arranged many activities that he likes: gold mine touring, gold panning, cave exploration, penguin viewing, star gazing, volcano exploration…those are the things he is interested. I also have arranged a fishing trip that he hasn’t done. I am curious if he would like that. Any many more activities…

    So I don’t have fears of video games. My kids don’t have any limitations on video games. I wrestle with them to give them break when they do play video games for hours.

  6. Lori
    Lori says:

    this is so familiar. my sons always ask me to limit video games and TV when their friends come over so their friends will do something OTHER than play video games/watch TV. their friends have limits at home and therefore want to binge at my house. my kids have no limits and therefore have no interest in binging on video games/TV.

    my sons also make movies — especially LEGO stop-motions — but the only thing i’ve bought them was a decent (cheap) microphone. they had to learn to use GIMP to do their special effects. you can find free software for virtually everything, including podcasting. and, of course, if you have a mac (i do) it comes with iMovie for making films.

    • marta
      marta says:

      I have a different experience. My kids’ friends who have unsrestricted access to videogames ONLY want to play when they come over (we have restricted access). My younger son, 7, quickly gets bored with the games and wants his 6 year old friend to play lego, or playmobil or whatever, and the other kid is glued to the screen, trying another level, another game. One of my older son’s friends, 12, will easily trade off a trip to the park or the beach with his friends for an afternoon playing videogames with people he doesn’t know.

      Both these kids (not related), for example, cannot swim. Time off screen to go to the neaby swimming pool where most of the neighbourhood kids learn never occurred to those parents- the kids are “safe” and “quiet” playing videogames.

      Time is a priceless commodity – if you fill it in with such an addictive activity as videogaming, most kids (remember, their brains and judgment are not adult brains and judgement – and adults have diseases like addiction)will embrace it with all their hearts. In the meantime, life, and time, goes on.

  7. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    I think you’re way off base with #4. Or you have a bad memory.

    Didn’t you NOT have something when you were growing up but your bff did? HBO? Sugared cereal? Barbie’s Dream House? And when you went to your friend’s house all you did was play barbies, eat cocoa puffs, and watch adult movies? Or was that only me? Anyway, sure as hell glad those parents didn’t tell me to go home and get my own HBO. Wow. Nice way to humiliate someone.

    BTW, that same friend is going thru a terrible divorce. One of her big complaints? Gaming addiction. Gaming literally every waking hour he’s not at work. It’s actually super sad.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Well put. Completely agree. I have three early 20’s male cousin who have completely failed to launch out of the family house because they are addicted to gaming. One flunked out of college. And we’re talking these are kids of parents who attended Harvard and Berkely.
      A good book in the subject is Boys Addrift by Dr. Sax.

  8. charles0322@windstream.net
    charles0322@windstream.net says:

    My little bro was born w spinal menegitis (sorry, I know the spelling is off) They told us he would always be delayed. My uncle came to visit & bought him the Nintendo when if first came out (wow, showing my age). After several months the teachers commented on how his cordination & motor skills improved.

    I think that with all things, good can come out of it if used properly. Now my kids seem to develope an attitude when playing too long. Our rules are only after all school work is done.

  9. Kami
    Kami says:

    I think all of how a child reacts to unlimited video games and such is all in the personality of the individual child. As a parent I have done both unlimited gaming when we finally got one and time limits when it has presented a problem. My issue is that my son is self regulating on games and such but, My daughter is not. She will play games at the expense of all other pursuits if I let her. I wish it were not so but, it is. The whole theory that because, allot of people in society let young children play video games that everyone should is ridiculous. Just because, all the other little children are eating captain crunch and drinking soda unlimited does not mean that I quit feeding mine oatmeal and fruit (which they love btw). To each their own. Only a mom would know what is best for their particular child.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’ve become more interested in gaming as it relates to education and other uses to solve problems and improve life in general since reading this blog. I’m discovering there are people creating and using games in a very practical way. Specifically, Jane McGonigal, over at http://janemcgonigal.com/ . A recent example can be found at http://www.iftf.org/games4health titled ‘How Can Games Make us Healthy? IFTF and HHS Discuss Games for Health’. There are benefits to playing games. I think the challenge is to really understanding the whys and transferring the knowledge gained back and forth between the “virtual” and “real” worlds.

  11. kris costello
    kris costello says:

    We attempted to “put limits” on our sons video game adventures, until we figured out that he was learning incredible lessons about leadership, communication and social relationships, through his online video relationships. And we also figured out that, just like pokeman phase…his interest would most likely “peak out” and move onto something else in the near future. And we were right, now I have to listen to “video games are boring, it’s more fun to play outside.” While the neighbor kids( that are battling parental restrictions” try to sneak into our house and talk him into playing video games! While parenting I just keep repeating the “mantra” “he will make the right choices…..”

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