Interview: Never Wear a Thong to a Knife Fight—and Other Advice From the Parenting Trenches

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Get Connected Gamer Profile 2Did you catch Part I of our interview with Aina Braxton? She’s a stellar mom and Program Coordinator at University of Washington Bothell’s Digital Future Lab. She works in the intersection between technology and social justice, and she’s one of my favorite people in the world.

Last time we talked about how she intentionally started gaming with her 10-year-old son and the ways that gaming brought them together—even though some of the games they play wouldn’t be considered family-appropriate. For Aina, context is key. If she is there to discuss problematic elements of games with her son, she can help him understand them.

For her, there is no “wait till he’s older,” especially in a world where it’s increasingly easier to access information. I wanted to know how she’s getting the message out to other parents, and how she juggles her busy work life with her family life. Read on!

Pixelkin: Do you feel like his friends’ parents understand what goes on in games? Are they talking to their kids too, or is it something that you’d have to have a conversation about with them?

Braxton: I think there’s a lot of parents that end up kind of being a little bit passive in this in the hopes that their kids are understanding and picking it apart themselves. And some of it is busyness on their part. Some of it is just, like, they feel so distant and detached from the form of media that they just don’t even want to take the time to sit and even look. Which…they’re doing themselves a disservice at that point.

Younger kids will find ways to get into games that their older siblings are playing. (NBC News)

Younger kids will find ways to get into games that their older siblings are playing. (NBC News)

And sometimes I think too, because he’s 10 going on 11, it’s the kids that have older siblings that are playing these games. And the parents might not be aware that there are younger kids playing these games. They think that it’s just the high school student playing the games, and they’re more comfortable with the idea of a junior in high school playing GTA, but they’re not necessarily aware that the 10-year-old might be playing. And they haven’t thought that out.

Pixelkin: Do you ever talk to other parents about gaming with their kids? Are they interested in it, or are they reluctant to think about it?

Braxton: Yes. Some of the ones that I’ve talked to are like, “Oh, that sounds interesting,” but they haven’t taken any steps. One of my friends I’m actually setting up a play date with, where her son can come over to my house and we can actually play together. Because she has the same issues. She almost never played video games. She played when she was really young, and so an Xbox controller is gonna be nutty for her. And she was like, “Oh my God, that’s awesome, of course I should be doing that,” you know? Partially because she is one of those moms who wants to control content and bring context to the content of information.

And she realizes that as her son gets older, a lot of that is going to get away from her a bit. So she kind of sees it as a need. And for her, she has three boys and one girl. And we obviously know that girls game, but boys game a lot. And she has always felt a disconnect on being able to connect with her boys on a lot of things. She was not much of a tomboy. So for her this is something where she can connect, that is easier than her playing football, or her wrestling. But playing a video game where you’re playing football with him is a way for them to connect and see each other and be present with each other. So she’s super excited to be able to do that.

I’ve talked to some of my other friends about it and some of them have just been kind of “eh.” I don’t know that they’ve taken the time to think about how important and critical it is. And it sucks because I think it’s one of the things that is going to run away from them.

Pixelkin: Have you found a way to leverage how busy you are, as a parent and working person, with the need to spend time with your kid and play games with him?

Braxton: You can’t always make it a video game weekend. He might be able to game. But it can’t always be that you’re able to game with him. But if you’re doing it once a month, I swear even that amount opens so many doors. And that’s what I noticed is even setting aside that little portion of time gave me such a greater understanding of what he was playing. And it allowed for me in conversations that we were having already, driving to and from school or whatever, to take the moment and put those things in context again. Because sometimes you can’t do it in the middle of the game. Sometimes it’s a conversation that needs to be had later. So you know if you’ve had that weekend of playing Mortal Kombat, then you can say, “You know, some of those ladies’ outfits were kind of ridiculous. Do you really think that anybody would logically wear three-inch heels and a thong to a fight to the death?” No!

Ten-year-olds can understand what the problem is with these outfits. (The Nerd Cave)

Ten-year-olds can understand what the problem is with these outfits. (The Nerd Cave)

But it’s funny again, because I think we don’t give our kids enough credit. Because he’s the one who mentioned it to me, and he was like, “Yeah, Mom, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but as the women get more and more beat up, their top comes more and more off. It’s really gross and it’s really sad. I don’t know why they would do that, it’s kind of stupid.”

That’s what he said! He either knows me way too well, or he really is that critical of what’s happening. But to be able to have that conversation with this growing young man who’s going to be released on the world, that’s key and critical. To ask, “Why would they do that?”

Pixelkin: And he understands that there’s no real, good reason for it. That that was a choice that someone made because they’re gross.

Braxton: Yeah! And I even asked him, “Why do you think they would do that?” and he said, “Well, it makes their chests look better, and they kind of want to make them look stupid.” And I’m like, yes, you’re so smart, it’s true, they’re trying to take their power away!

But you can’t say back those things. You have to keep it in the words they said. “They are trying to make them look stupid, you’re right. You’re right honey, they are.”

Pixelkin: Because he’s understanding the basics of it.

Braxton: Right. You don’t need to say, “Yeah, it’s misogyny,” you know? Misogyny…maybe you say it, but what makes sense in his 10-year-old mind is, “They’re trying to make them look stupid.”

Pixelkin: That’s the important thing.

Braxton: Right!

Pixelkin: When you’re looking for new games for him, what do you look for?

Braxton: Two-player, co-op options, because that’s key. Something that has logic puzzles. And if it’s gonna be a shooter hopefully it’s more like Mass Effect, where there’s more storyline and more puzzles involved, and more choice opportunities.

We did try Call of Duty. And I was just bored to tears. And then I told him exactly why I was bored to tears. And he said, “Yeah, you’re right.” He wasn’t bored to tears. We rented the game, I let him play it, we returned it, and I told him, “We’re never renting that game again. And here’s my reasoning why: it’s flat, you have to play as this douchey white guy, all you’re doing is running around killing people, there’s hardly a storyline… This is boring. This is lazy gaming. And I’m not interested in that, and you shouldn’t be either.”

And that’s where you can pull the parent card, and you can be like, “No, screw this.” Yeah, this is about your interests, but this is crap.

Pixelkin: How did he take that?

Braxton: He was like, “Okay.” Because it’s not like I said we’re never going to play video games again. We’re not going to play that game. But we did play it, we did try it out. But that one, oh my God, I could not get into that at all. And that was the one where I got stuck running into a wall! So then he’s yelling at me, and I’m bored! It’s just stupid!

The only part of that that was fun was for us of course was the…I don’t know what they call that, Hide and Go Seek or Search and Destroy. That was the only part that was fun. The only part where you can play two-player on that game is a scenario where you hide from each other and try to find each other and shoot each other. That was a blast. That was really fun. And that was the most actual gameplay that we did together with that—that’s just hours of laughing at each other.

Braxton found games like Call of Duty boring--she calls it "lazy gaming." (Source: Youtube)

Braxton found games like Call of Duty boring—she calls it “lazy gaming.” (Source: Youtube)

Pixelkin: I like that message of mediated gaming, because I think a lot of parents will go for an all-or-nothing approach. They won’t know anything, or they’ll be too strict with it. And there is an in-between space where you can say, “No, this is a good game and this is a bad game.”

Braxton: Yeah, and those are critical learning moments. Especially if you take the time to try the game out with your kid. Because then they can see you make that choice, as a mature adult, to critique the media and say, “This is why that isn’t that great.” And they’re like, “Oh.”

It isn’t that everything that’s bad out there I should completely stay away from. There’s a middle ground where you can say, “What is it? Why is it bad? Okay, now let’s get it out.” That’s brilliant. For them to actually see you go through that process, and go through it with them. You invite them into that process, and then they can do the process for themselves. Because eventually that’s what you want. You want to build independent smart gamers. Kids that are gonna critically assess the media that they’re intaking. Not just be passive about it.

Pixelkin: And that’s so crucial when it comes to film and television as well, because there are things that are problematic. And there are people who defend that as a knee-jerk reaction because they love the thing. And you’re teaching him that there’s this area where you can be critical of something without completely trashing it, or you can like something and still be critical about it.

Braxton: And you don’t have to be a blind believer in everything. Like with Mortal Kombat, once again, I’m not a blind believer in that game. Yes, it’s really fun, but it is very problematic. And I have to be open and honest about that, and teach him how to recognize those signs.

Pixelkin: Is there something you wish other parents knew about video games? A general takeaway?

Braxton: In all honesty I wish more parents knew how fun they were. And knew how fun and important it is to play with your kids, because it really is. And I think, being a younger mom, I have a little bit of an advantage. A lot of my friends are 10 to 15 years older than me, and some of them didn’t play games at all because they missed that window. That’s not always completely true; my brother-in-law is gonna be 40 and he’s a crazy gamer. But I feel like I wish they all knew the variety and depth of stuff that’s out there. That’s what I wish a lot of people that have a prejudice against it could do. That they could step into it and see how much is available out there. How diverse the genre has become in a lot of ways. And the importance of how it can be this amazing bonding tool between you and your kids.

Check out Part I of our interview with Aina Braxton by clicking here.

Simone de Rochefort

About 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.