Why I bonded with my son over retro gaming

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

The other day my friend posted a Facebook picture of her son playing on his new games console that he'd received for his birthday. Surprisingly, it wasn't an Xbox or PlayStation. It was something of a relic – an old school Sega mega drive. 

I immediately recognised the game he was playing, and it made me feel nostalgic and envious. When I asked my friend if she'd pulled the mega drive from storage and dusted it off, she told me she'd brought it that day from a well-known toy retailer.  I started my search for one too. 

The idea of introducing my son to PacMan, Sonic and Space Invader type games is exciting. Admittedly, the graphics won't be quite what he's used to. In fact, initially I'm sure he will dismiss them as "rubbish". But, when you consider his addiction to the block like nature of Minecraft, I personally can't see that they're all that different.

What is different is that the Sega mega drive games aren't online. There's no talking to randoms via a headset, there's no collaboration with other face less beings to shoot other people. Collaboration is by playing two player games only (with a REAL person!) and that's something that I feel positive about. 

The worrying trend of online gaming is nothing new for parents. But it's relatively new for me. 

Up until recently, my seven-year-old son was happy to play games alone or with his dad and his favoured games never strayed too far from car racing, football or Minecraft. Then one day that changed. Standing in the kitchen I heard him talking to someone while playing a game. 

"What ammo do you have for me?" he asked. "Where are you now?".  

Turns out he'd entered the world of Fortnite, a new game that's causing controversy amongst parents. He was talking to gangs of other people via the handset and collaborating to kill. The game was quickly banned and his access since deleted. 

This incident furthered my desire to embrace retro gaming, and the benefits it may bring – particularly from a connection and bonding perspective. 

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"Retro games are less realistic and more about just having fun in the moment," says health and wellbeing psychologist, Marny Lishman.

"Playing them with your child means that you're sharing a common interest and are being active rather than passive.

"Playing them means that you're likely be in a positive emotional state, rather than a negative one, because you experience nostalgia."

In addition to this, Ms Lishman notes that retro games, such as Tetris, help with decision making and others are about competition with the reward being something other than killing!

"Laughing together and being engaged with your child about the game is a great way of bonding and can provide a good opportunity to talk about your childhood too," says Ms Lishman. 

"It can also be a gateway to discussing topics that would may otherwise feel too forced." 

As yet I haven't managed to get hold of a console, but I'm still hoping to. 

As my son gets older he's wanting to spend less and less time with me. As his interests become more honed, his world is becoming more impenetrable and I'm conscious of getting left out in the cold. 

In an ideal world he'd have no or very limited access to computer games full stop. But this isn't an ideal world. Reality, peers and society means that computer games are a part of his life and will continue to be in the future. 

I personally see no benefit in implementing an all-out ban. He will only seek out and access the games through other means anyhow.

But if retro gaming is a step forward in finding a nice balance between the old and the new. And if it enables bonding between us, then I'm embracing that for the good it may do 

Besides, who knows, at the end of this game we might even end up both as winners!