3 Reasons why children are so drawn to succeeding at video games

Please know that I am not a fan of video games but there is a secret to the programming of these games that seems to stir them at a level of greatness and fortunately the magic is completely transposable.

As a Psychotherapist I have heard versions of the following so many times – “why can my child be so darned focused on their video games and why can’t they be a fraction as focused on the important stuff like chores and school assignments?”

Kids don’t just play these games; they play like stars. They play to be the best in the world. All they want to do is achieve level after level of success, mastery and accomplishment.

So, here’s what video games have in common that differs drastically from most of what kids encounter in real life:

  1. In a video game the incentives are crystal clear and timed precisely to always transmit the energy of success. Games have deliciously energized “time-ins” or as I now prefer to say, “game-in/game-on.” These games never forget to confront the player with the juicy energies of success. Score, score, score and the games never miss an opportunity to recognize the player with all the bells and whistles. The successes are always connected to discernable experiences that the child can link to events of the game done well.

  2. Video games are always in the moment, never in the past or future. The games never claim to be too busy to notice success. Success is the default setting. Even if a rule is broken the child is right back in after the consequence is over and games always reset to see and express the energy of success. Games never hold a grudge about a rule that was broken in the past or for an anticipated rule break in the future. They are always supremely present and always deliver.

  3. The rules and consequences of video games are super clear and super simple. When a child breaks a rule – even a little bit – the games always simply deliver a consequence. The games never look the other way or cut slack for the child just learning or for the child who is having a great game (not wanting to disturb the momentum.) The programming never gives warnings, only a consequence. We look at these consequences as drastic and punitive – heads rolling, blood spurting – but who’s back in the game in a second or two – even if the game is over. This is so different from real life where time-outs are only considered to count when they are one minute for each year of a child’s age. That’s a set up for failure because it’s so much harder to sustain the real goal of having the sense of consequence be completed successfully and moving on to next success.

Kid’s play these games with verve. All they want to do is go level, level, level – in their mind’s it’s levels of greatness. They want to be best in the world and the game’s programming is what consistently inspires this.

The child comes out of these ridiculously short time-outs ever-more determined to never break that rule again and ever-more inspired to go further into mastery and accomplishment.

The secret is that ‘game in/game on’ is so powerfully energized that ‘game-out/game off’ feels like an eternity, even though it’s just a second or two. In the parlance of the Nurtured Heart Approach, we call this kind of time-out a “reset.” Even the toughest teens thrive with short resets as called for. The advantage is that because it’s over so quickly the parent or teacher can jump right back into the truth of the moments that follow and express gratitude that the very same rule is now not being broken.

‘Game-on’ simply translates to being radically appreciative when rules are not being broken and appreciative for every kind of successful choice and value that can be called out in context of the truth of the follow of the day. “Sarah, that was so thoughtful how you moved your shoes into the hallway. It showed me how considerate you are of the space your brother needs to do his assignment. I appreciate how collaborative you are being.”

The other secret is that by always delivering a consequence when a line is crossed, even a little bit, these games avoid the trap of giving energy to negativity. This translates to a little bit of a broken rule, a little bit of arguing, a little bit of disrespect, a little bit of non-compliance, is a broken rule and therefore a completely un-energized reset (time-out.) The child will feel even these ridiculously and extremely short reset as a consequence. After all, the consequences in video games are just an illusion, yet a most powerfully inspiring and motivating sense of having crossed a line and having been held accountable. Even a few seconds, like in the video game, will feel like an eternity if the ‘game on’ is powerful and inspired and like in the video game, all the child wants to do is be back in the game and better than ever at not breaking rules and in achieving all there is to achieve. Greatness!

Go for the gold. Game-in/Game-on!