There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to treating games the way we do many books, TV shows, and movies: as a gateway to discussion with our kids.

Mariko, AKA Gamerwife, recently laid down the law about how games and movies aren’t that similar after all—and how games could offer even more emotional engagement, regardless of their cinematic qualities.

“The difference lies in passivity,” she writes on her blog. We watch and absorb films—they leave their imprint on our emotions, but we don’t engage with them physically. Games require a physical and mental commitment when we’re playing them.

Within the game industry though, developers often have cinematic aspirations. As our capability for graphic realism advances, games attempt to ape real life as closely as possible. The argument goes that the more realistic and cinematic our games are, the more we’ll be able to emotionally engage with them.

Emotion! Engagement! ... Explosions? (Source)

Emotion! Engagement! … Explosions? (Source)

As Mariko rightly points out, some of the most emotional games of 2013 don’t have advanced graphics at all—Papers, Please and Gone Home are two that she singles out. Gone Home doesn’t include any human animation whatsoever, and Papers, Please is done in a retro pixelated style.

“Unlike movies where the audience must choose a character to identify with and live the experience through the actor’s interpretation of that experience, games are able to go that extra mile and literally make the audience, or ‘player,’ the character we want them to identify with,” says Mariko. “To me, this is really what makes games such an incredible medium for both artistic expression, and as a tool for social change.”

This is good news for families who want to use media as an entry point to discussions with their kids. It’s easy to launch discussions from Papers, Please and Gone Home. Both have complex, socially relevant messages. These messages don’t rely on how film-like the games are, they rely on putting players in a position to explore and experience a story.

But any game can offer these opportunities to connect. Participating in—or just watching—gameplay can be similar to sitting down with your kids to watch a movie. Gamers go through a variety of emotions—from joy and excitement to sadness or shock. Don’t let unfamiliarity with the plot of the game stop you from asking questions about it. Your kids will probably enjoy explaining all the intricacies of the game to you.

Our only caution? Wait till there’s a break in the action before you start talking, or they won’t hear a thing!

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.