2015 note: This page is old, and in an interesting, good way. People whose children were born in the 21st century might not know the hardships of the old days, before iPads, before Minecraft. I'm leaving the older stories and recommendations along with newer things. 😊 —Sandra

Tales of Happy Video Gamers

And parents are learning, too. While they see their children learn in ways that are different, and new, and peaceful, they learn more about themselves, and the world, and their children. —Sandra

Emily responded (May 2015): Yes! So much!

A few months ago, my kids started playing Five Nights at Freddy's, which has creepy animatronic characters and jump scares. I couldn't understand what the draw was, but I said yes and I played it with them. Then they started wanting to watch the youtube videos and I said yes and watched with them. Then I noticed that in their pretend play they would tell the animatronics what to do. They'd take these scary characters and turn the situation around so they were the ones scaring the animatronics. Or tell them to "shut up." I realized, the game is giving them a chance to confront their fears. To take something that scares them and have control over it. It's been really interesting to watch.

There are several pages, with art, about


Neopets was once a thriving place, but gaming moved on, and flash games don't play on some newer devices, but I'm leaving this for historical purposes:


Neopets is an online "world" consisting of games within games. Points earned can be used to feed your neopet or buy him toys and books. There are pattern games, spelling and math games, action, gambling, cards and chance, at varying levels of skill and speed.

Neopets is supported by banner ads, and is free to the user.

Parents have to approve kids' accounts, so it's best for parents to set accounts up in the first place.

Links to Many Online Games

I love the video game articles and comments you've collected on your blogs and article pages. They helped give me courage to enjoy and appreciate my son's passion for gaming at a time when everyone wanted me to force him into regimented reading & writing.

He's almost 8 now, and blew us all away when playing a family geography/national monuments card game. I was shocked at how much stuff he knew and didn't know where he learned it all from. When I asked him, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Hello! I DO play video games, you know!" :)


"Mom, can you remember a time when our family has been this happy and things have been this good?"

I got some good advice from [UnschoolingDiscussion] about a year and a half ago on this subject. Our sons, now 16 and 13 were playing games constantly and it was starting to worry me. We had just recently moved back to a place where they could have internet access and unlimited computer use. Seeing it as a new thing, I was OK with them being on the computer for long periods in the beginning but then it turned into 6 mos, 7 mos, 9 mos, a year. They were up all night, slept all day. My schoolish, institutionalized mind was about to blow (did blow a couple of times with me turning into a screeching maniac). Then I came here and took the advice to get more involved in their games (I found they don't really interest me but I know enough to talk about them a bit), find out what they were getting from the games, and to really look at Sam and Joe and who they were/are. Often (always) you have to be willing to ignore all the hype out there and look at what's best for your family.

I also read something here (Sandra, maybe) that made me sit up and take notice: If they were reading a book would I be so worried? Wow, that was a lightbulb moment for me. I read as much as I could as a child and got praise for it. Sometimes, I got "Get your nose out of that book" and I remember how that felt. I now look at their computer pursuits in the same light. It's what they love to do right now. But, they also love to read, Joe just read Freakonomics and loves military history. He can cite statistics on battles and such that I didn't even know existed. Much of this interest spawned and/or supplemented by gaming. His current favorite Elder Scrolls. Sam always has some book going (often the dictionary). He's writing a book and working on a graphic novel. He's also working with Rick (Dad) to build our new house and enrolled in the community college this week. Star Wars games and Second Life? are his current faves. They both walk the dog in the evenings and often times insist that I go. Fortunately, I don't need a leash. They both like to be with us (parents).

They no longer spend all their time on the computer, and it varies by day and what's going on. They do what they need to do. But my letting go allowed us to get to the place where one said just last week on one of our walks: Mom, can you remember a time when our family has been this happy and things have been this good?

Just breathe.
Don't waste a moment of enjoying who they are by worrying about who they might become.


A way to interact with family and society

On Apr 7, once, [someone on a discussion list] wrote:

I do struggle with the fact that he could sit and play computer games all day - literally form morning until bed - if I let him. .... But I also as a parent realize he needs to be a part of the family - and society.
Amy Carpenter replied:
Hmm ... in our family, playing video games *is* one way to interact with family and society.

When we all gather around and play Zelda together, we have some great talks about strategy and mythology and weaponry, and my husband reads all the characters' lines out loud in different voices. I swear it reminds me of stories that I hear older people tell of gathering around the radio every night to listen to the shows, laughing and talking together. Or in even earlier days, how families gathered to read and tell stories.

Also, in many role-playing games like Zelda, you only go forward in the game by helping people, and we talk about those kinds of choices, too.

When we watch my youngest play Katamari, especially the World level, we talk about where we want to visit—the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, Easter Island, etc. This leads to talks about how all those famous landmarks came to be, and what we know of their locations.

Honestly, there are so many times that we are talking and learning at home or out in the big world, and the easiest way to help my kids get a quick frame of reference is to mention something out of their video games.

So perhaps your son can play all the computer games he wants *and* be a part of the family and society, if you're willing to forge those connections.


Assorted Special Info

In July, 2009, I sent the five video-game-related pages of The Big Book of Unschooling to Jill Parmer to check over for me to see that I hadn't bungled phrases and concepts, because she's a big WoW player herself, with her family. She sent me a few other ideas worth sharing in full!

Luke (9 or 10 at the time) and I met a Brazilian player on WoW one time, he had a friend with him who translated for us. We learned a few words in Portuguese, and had fun playing them. Gave Luke and I lots to talk about...another country, coconut pudding that Steve, husband, had there; similarities and differences to Spanish.

Using voice chat programs, skype, Ventrillo. Addi (13,14 at the time) met a person from Algeria, and in order to communicate with him, they put their text into a translator and then sent the translated version to each other. Luke played with his friends across the U.S and in Canada, they had so much role playing going and they could hear each other and play their characters.

People use online games to make machinima videos and music videos, making their own movies with game characters and mixing game play to match a song. Example: [a link to wegame, but the site was gone in 2022]

In the Courtesy and Responsibility section I was reminded of people having power to leave a group easily if someone was being obnoxious. People can call others in an area for help. Also, you have the option to put other characters on "ignore" if they keep bothering you.

In group play some guilds do role playing scenerios, and recreate the history of the game. Opposing factions communicating through message websites and voice over internet chats.

—Jill Parmer

Writing a Thank You Note instead of playing World of Warcraft

Here's a tidbit to use if uninformed people get on your case and start putting down videogames. I stopped playing WoW this morning when my son got up. He took over on that computer and I walked away to do stuff and then came back to see what character he was playing. What I saw at that moment was that *he was writing a thank you note to his aunt* for loot she had mailed him after their group play yesterday. ("Thanks much for the Boots of the Decimator.") (Awwwww.)

There are many more fun and more cool moments that we've had playing the game, but this was one of the most unexpected. (I don't even do a good job modeling writing thank you notes myself. But I do model saying thank you. I feel rather vindicated for all the years I didn't force him to write thank you notes. Obviously the ability and impulse were not completely undeveloped w/o the culturally typical use of arm-twisting.)


Awww.. this reminds me of the time I sent my 8 year old daughter a few things in game, and when I logged back in I found thank you notes for each and every thing I sent her. That she took the time. (most of her gameplay that day in fact) to send me thank you's just warmed my heart. 🙂

-Ana (Anastasia)

More on World of Warcraft and the harm it does NOT cause

He's just gotten crazy good!

I just have to boast a bit.

My 11 year old son plays War Craft (a certain version of it called Footman Frenzy) and he just beat this one team that is considered one of the best in the world. In fact, when he plays games, usually guys team up (sometimes as many as 11 to one!) to play against him. He's just gotten crazy good!

My 13 year old son is becoming better and better at Halo 2 and is in a tournament today. He's been so cute this week, working to get his responsibilities done so that he can devote more time to training. He's been downloading strategies off the Internet, printing them, studying them, and then using them in trial sessions with his buddy who will be his partner. This friend spent the night last night and I got such a kick out of their discourse - how they worked together, how they determined who would be the boss, what codes they are using to cue each other into where their positions are (so that the opponents at the tournament won't know what they're saying).

It's been a high stakes week for both of my boys who spend a ton of time online gaming.

What hit me this a.m. is that sometimes we just don't realize how powerful all this gaming is. We think that it is somehow not as good as sports or music. Yet look at all those skills my boys are learning just from hours online?

And the sense of pride they have in becoming really good reminds me of kids who are stars on their soccer teams. I just don't get the same level of insight because I'm not a gamer.

Just had to share. I'm way proud of them.

Julie B (Bravewriter)

What "Age of Empires" has taught my children:

First, it was my son who loved to play Age of Empires on PC. Then one day he told me he would like to find out more about the Egyptians so I searched out some fun things we could do together. He mummified apples using different powder and really enjoyed doing before and after weighing, graphing the results and dictating a report which he filed away in a clearfile folder. We talked about the Nile and got on to the subject of the longest rivers in the world. We looked at how ancient Egyptians ate and dressed. At this point his sisters became interested they made Egyptian jewellery and clothes, experimented with make-up. We had a family Egyptian feast after researching modern Egyptian recipes on the net.

Then the girls also became interested in the game and we are now constantly having to get books from the library to find out about all sorts of civilisations—Celts, Vikings, Huns, Goths etc. It has sure expanded my knowledge of history.

Recently we networked our computers so all three can play each other. It has added a whole new dimension to their interaction with each other. The first time they played, my son attacked the girls but they have now decided it is better to become allied to each other and battle the computer. The eldest daughter is also very concerned with building a strong economic base and always looks at the production analyses at the end of a game to assess her performance in food production, gold and stone mining.

They have made weapons from cardboard boxes for all their soft toys and armour from cardboard boxes, the toys have been organised in to armies. I especially loved the decorated armour constructed for the war elephants.

Recently my son said he would give me a lesson in playing. There is an awful lot of memory and strategy involved—you need to keep your farmers working, have enough supplies to keep building, remember to research and what you have where within your empire—surely useful for organising real life.

I have had to help make trebuchets and other ancient weapons. We have discussed different architectural styles of various civilisations and more. All from one computer game.

It has been a great lesson to me in treating any comment along the lines of "it is just a computer game" with much suspicion.

Julie Ward, Wellington, New Zealand

My son's interest in Robert the Bruce and William Wallace came about because of Age of Kings. The game also taught him a great deal before he even went loooking for a book.

Computer games give the child (or person) the ability to organise different types of information into a coherent whole. Age of Kings demands planning in that not only must you equip your armies, you must also have enough peasants working to supply the army with food and raw materials.

For those who keep track of what things are 'educational' as well as History, maths is required. Each peasant must be bringing in a particular amount of raw material in order to supply the soldiers. More advanced weaponary requires more stone or wood or gold.

All this led to Bryn not only looking up Robert The Bruce in a book, he also read about armies throughout the ages, Hannibal—how did he get those elephants across those hills, and medieval weaponry. The game bought all those things alive for him in a way that a dry textbook or worksheet wouldn't have done.

I also fail to see why games should be limited. A child playing and having fun is learning. He is interacting with the game, planning, thinking and above all having fun.

Anyway, I'd say something like the above and probably more polished if I was thinking about it. Then I'd go off on a rant about people who prevent children playing games because they are thinking there is some difference between education and play.

Shyrley, in Virginia
(who is from England, so says "maths")
(and who might write a longer bit later)

Links to glimpses of Age of Empires and its sequel, complete with background music.

Here's my position on video games...

My children play video via computer. They love role playing games however, so there may be a difference between them and say something like Pac Man or whatever. I've noticed that in the role-playing games (RPGs) there is the use of math skills as they need to keep track of their money, skill points, etc. and they need to balance it all out and make decisions that impact their game and the success of it. My children and husband have all discovered an online game called Asheron's Call. It is a role playing game that is played online with others. My normally unsocialble (by choice I might add) 13 yo boy has made friends by talking to others and playing the game with them. In this game they create fellowships, guilds, etc., and can hunt together and help one another. His typing skills have improved, spelling and sentence structure...all things I could not get him interested in before this game. He is proud of the friends he's made, and his progress he's made and also he's gained plenty of computer experience with this.

I don't see video games as negative at all as they have been beneficial in my experience. My husband has also gotten to know the people my children know in the game and they are monitored and I am also nearby and check in on their chats now and then.

Shawnna Baldwin, California, Friday, August 23, 2002

If there were two of me, I'd be writing, right now, a book on role playing, electronic and live, with a reasonably positive spin. The SCA, D&D and internet RPGs strike me as a very important cultural development that just about no one takes seriously.

SteveMuhlberger, a medieval history professor and homeschooling dad in Ontario

Dave Martinez: I definitely feel that the video/computer games help develop strategic thinking. They are used as therapy for head-injured patients.

Sandra Dodd: To help them be linear or analytical? Or just to help them build new neural paths?

Dave Martinez: I think of linear thinking as overlapping with analytical. It's that 1-D, "male," type of thinking (deductive). Playing helps develop new neural paths along those lines, but not necessarily in the inductive way of thinking. After all, the rules are there, made by someone else. It's not the type of creative process as painting new artwork or composing music.

SandraDodd: So it's like a puzzle, rather than like a blank sheet of paper.

Dave Martinez: rightooo, good one

Dave Martinez is a chemist who worked at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (later the Phillips laboratory), until a head injury put him on disability. For several years he was the dad-at-home of an unschooling family in New Mexico.

Eric in Wyoming (32):

I suppose I could say that in the "For What It's Worth" department I'm a 32 year old male who plays everything from 'first-person shooters' to real-time strategy games to simulation games, and I play them all for two primary reasons: Release of tension, and they keep my mind active. Every genre of gaming has a mental aspect whether it's solving a puzzle, or figuring out the best vantage point to attack your enemy from. They all require boosted brain power in some form, so my cognizance and mental processes don't turn into so much mush. And not one single type of 'shoot 'em up' game has turned me into a violent psychopath bent on the destruction of mankind.

I play first-person shooter games like hi-tech 'cowboys and indians' or 'cops and robbers' except there's no squabbling. If he got me first, I know it, and I can't say 'Nuh uh, I got you first...'

I find video gaming a better outlet than some that are available in the world today.

Eric Schooley, a married but yet-childless network administrator for the State of Wyoming

But WAIT! There's more!

Applications to other Pursuits
That sounds dry, but it's not!
Great stories of what kids have learned that surprised the people around them.

Benefits of Video Games Main Page

Other kinds of games