STYLE

From consoles to computers, some moms find joy in gaming with family

07/23/2013 11:46 EDT | Updated 09/22/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Lesley Woodhouse has had a controller close at hand since first getting her video game fix at age 12, from the maze-traversing "Pac-Man" to the role-playing adventures of the "Final Fantasy" series.

Three decades on, she has some real-life company as she navigates the virtual world: her teen son.

Woodhouse, 42, and her 16-year-old, Austin, generally engage in two-person role-playing games on PlayStation consoles or computer games. The duo also share a "World of Warcraft" account, so even when they don't play together, they can connect and talk about the popular online fantasy adventure.

"We don't have as much time as we would like (to play together) because we're also very involved in scouting and he's involved in cadets," Woodhouse said in a phone interview from Guelph, Ont.

"But he will talk to me about the games that he's playing and I'll talk to him about what I'm playing, and we do a lot more of that where we're comparing games to try and figure out what we would want to play next. Or if we're stuck in a game, we'll help each other out."

Woodhouse said her husband, Phillip, is more partial to computer gaming, while 14-year-old daughter Kathleen plays more on the Wii and Nintendo DS. The family collection of consoles would undoubtedly stir envy among even occasional gamers with the Atari 2600 and several models of PlayStation and Xbox in their possession — not to mention a library of some 300 board games.

Time spent conquering fictional foes in the virtual realm has offered more to Woodhouse and her son than mere escapism: it's helped to further forge a bond and foster communication between the pair.

"We were having a little bit of difficulty connecting with him when he was about 10, and it was a way for us to do that. And now, he's an avid gamer," said Woodhouse.

"It was something that he saw us doing and so he wanted to do it, and then it became something that we could have a mutual interest in because he's not really into sports and neither are we," she added.

"We're more into outdoors and camping and things, and so it was really hard during the winter especially to connect with him. So that was one thing that I do. My husband does more board games and things."

Woodhouse's gaming know-how has also proved impressive among her son's peers.

"One thing that we have noticed is that when (Austin's) had friends over and they've said: 'Wow, it's really cool that your mom plays games and knows what you're talking about.'"

Late night host Jimmy Fallon recently featured a comical compilation of video submissions showing youngsters and adults playing video games with their moms.

"Gaming With My Mom" featured the mostly fish-out-of-water mothers exhibiting everything from visible frustration to sheer delight while manoeuvring the controls alongside their kids. But the notion of gaming being a strictly a male-dominated pastime — particularly among younger users — is an outdated one.

A 2012 survey commissioned by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada polled nearly 3,000 adults in addition to teens and children.

The survey found 45 per cent of adult women aged 18-34 play video games a few days per week compared to 49 per cent of adult men. The survey also found 80 per cent of parent gamers played video games with their child, and 52 per cent of parent gamers reported family game play once a week or more.

Woodhouse said the role-playing games offer an "opportunity to get away from reality."

"You become immersed in the story the way you become immersed in a movie or a book — but there's a thinking aspect to it," she said.

"It's not just: 'Here you go, watch the movie or read the book.' You actually have some control over what's going on in the story, so you can immerse yourself in it one more level."

Shari Goss is co-founder of the homegrown blog "And She Games...." In collaboration with Deanna Tousignant, the duo offer a female perspective on all things gaming, from apps to board games to the video variety and beyond.

Goss said she'll watch her husband play "Halo" and helps him solve puzzles in "Tomb Raider." However, the mother of three said she loves the Wii because many of the games are more family-friendly, using the console to play dance and racing games as well as sports with her sons aged six, five and three.

While her kids love to go outside to run and play, a little gaming offers an indoor alternative when conditions are sweltering outdoors, like during the recent heat wave, she noted.

"That's their favourite thing. They love to play together. They're always trying to figure out how the four of us — them and me — or the five of us can all play together," Goss, 37, said from Bradford, Ont.

"For them, that's something really fun, it's something they can do, but they know that it's grown-up and it's something that we like to do as well."

Beyond the chance to be entertained and spend time with her boys, Goss said gaming also offers an opportunity to highlight lessons with her kids about the nature of competition, such as encouraging them to try their best in a game regardless of the result.

"If they don't win, they'll throw a fit and just decide to race down the street because they're boys and they have to race with everything. And I've been finding that this is not only a really good bonding moment but it's also a really good teaching moment," she said.

"I can teach them: 'Oh, you've got last place, but you finished (the game) this time, because if you don't make it to the end, it'll just say: 'You're not going to finish this time.' It'll just end the race.

"We're able to teach them a little bit more and it's bonding and it's so much fun. It's keeping them busy as well."

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Online:

And She Games...: http://www.andshegames.com

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon — "Gaming With My Mom":http://bit.ly/15R57Ub

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