Teens And Video Games (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Minecraft)

Yesterday was like every other day – talking at the back of my son’s head, trying to get him to hear my words while he was engrossed in a video game. What made it worse was that my parents were visiting.

“Can you turn away from the computer and talk with Gramom and Pop-Pop?,” I said, perhaps not so kindly. 

His response floored me. “I will. I’m just building something in Minecraft to show them my invention.”

In other words, he was putting together a multi-media presentation. And what ensued was a multi-generational conversation about physics, engineering, marketing … even feelings.

Newsflash: Smartphones, computers and video games are not necessarily the time-suck, anti-social devices parents think they are. In fact, a recent study published by the American Psychological Association found that “playing video games may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.” They can be effective tools in learning resilience, and it was even noted that simple games could promote relaxation and ward off anxiety.

Savvy marketers would do well by capitalizing on this huge divide between what teens view as their passion, and parents, a pain in the rear. How?

  • Devise ratings that encourage, rather than discourage. Don’t note explicit language, nudity or violence. (Besides, studies show that parents largely ignore those ratings, anyway.) Rather, list the 21st-century skills that are fostered through game play. Critical thinking? Problem solving? Creativity, budgeting or delayed gratification? GoldieBlox capitalized on that recently, not with ratings, but with ads that went viral. Why? They didn’t just promote the fun of their product, but rather appealed to parental desire to bolster girls’ participation in STEM subjects.
  • Develop a dialogue “tool kit.” Granted, we often hand phones and tablets to young kids in order to get a moment’s peace. (It’s the 10- or 30-minute digital babysitter.) But as those little kids grow up, two things happen: 1) it becomes nearly impossible to pry any digital device out of their hands, and 2) they stop talking to us. This must be why conversation-starter card decks are so popular, such as The Box Girls, created by Melissa and Doug, or Table Topics. What kinds of bonding activities, conversation starters or teachable moments can a brand help foster through video games?
  • Create games marketed to educators. This doesn’t mean rote, flash card-style games. Keep the fun factor high, but build in tools for the teacher that allow for in-the-moment assessment and an understanding not just of what kids learn, but how they arrived at that learning. One example is SimCityEDU. This game, developed by GlassLab, meets educational standards and provides teachers with formative assessment about students’ ability to problem solve. At the same time, it’s fun. Educators are trusted influencers. So if teachers are on board with a video game, you can bet that parents will be, too.

Who knows? With enough parental support, interest and encouragement in video games, we just might see a resurgence of teens going outside and running around with their friends.

Until then, what other ways can marketers help parents find peace in online play? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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