Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles huddled around a game table set up in the living room. Games went on for hours. There was banter, laughter and strategy. They lived in a rural, poverty stricken community. There were literally two TV stations, and those remained grainy and mostly off. Entertainment was made in the moment, not mass produced in a corporate meeting.
Who knew that we weren’t just engaged in “fun and games” while having fun and playing games? Through neuroscience what we’ve come to learn about play is mind boggling. Humans are wired for play. In fact, for optimum brain development, play is crucial. Like other mammals, humans have a play circuitry in the brain that functions to build relationships, grow pre-frontal cortex decision-making agility and prepare us for successful socializing in the world.
Matthew Dahlitz, writing for neuropsychotherapist.com, summarizes some of the fascinating research of Washington State University’s Jaak Panksepp: “When playing and activating the neocortex, epigenetic changes are occurring that change the brain. In the study of rats, Panksepp found that ‘of the 1,200 genes that we measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.’”
Play has a purpose!
Amber and Andy Ankowski, on the PBS parent section of PBS.org, call attention to five important roles of playing games together. Games are good for motor skills, can lead to better grades, help your kids solve problems, create bonding opportunities and are just plain fun.
But, there’s a challenge, right? Last time you huddled around the kitchen table, likely there were more phones in hands than games you own in your house. Well, at least that you can find and that have anything approaching all the pieces still intact. Do you even know where you have the games stuffed away? And, in our modern, busy lives, do you want the hassle of cleaning up another mess? Sometimes the answer needs to be yes, of course, but often you want to get to the payoff of play without the pain of pieces of games being found by your foot days later. Ouch!
As you might expect, there are great app options that bridge the gaming gap.
One of the most easily accessible summaries of family game night options is a guest article by Erin Navarro for familytech.com. Navarro notes five family-friendly apps that can reboot your family game night.
➡ Catan HD – good for tweens and teens, this game is a strategy game of building out a village into a bigger and better civilization.
➡ Ticket to Ride – widely popular as a board game, geography and train aficionados can demonstrate their prowess and help poor lost souls like me find our way.
➡ Heads Up! – popularized by The Ellen DeGeneres show, this game is basic and belly-laugh worthy. You hold your phone on your forehead with the picture facing out, clues are spouted, guesses flow and the rest is history, hilarity or both!
➡ Boggle with Friends – another analog game made digitally accessible; it probably needs no introduction. Additional features and languages allow the app version to create a more robust experience that many will love.
➡ Just Dance Now – combining the power of your phone, TV streaming and laugh-til-you-cry experiences, you can ignite the very best play circuitry in your brain by getting your mind and body connected with games like this.
If you’re more of a traditionalist, don’t worry. There are options for you too. Classic Game Night, for instance, will have you playing Charades and other go-to games with a few easy clicks. Search for it in your app store. You’ll find it and tons more options alongside.
Need more inspiration? Take a look at learningliftoff.com. Peter Spain has a list of five additional iPhone and Android apps for family game night. He notes that Jackbox Party Pack is his favorite. It sounds like something you might order at a fast-food drive-thru, but this is tons of fun without any heavy calories!
There are so many choices. Don’t let that stall your stamina for starting. Games are great fun. They’re vital for brain development. They’re easier to access than ever. And they create memories that will last a lifetime.
It’s time to reclaim the game! Let’s play!
-Games are good for motor skills, can lead to better grades, help your kids solve problems, create bonding opportunities and are just plain fun.
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the president of STARRY in Round Rock.