What if All they want to do is Play Video Games?

Posted on Posted in Doing What You Love, Don't push your kids!, Freedom, Trusting Children, Unschooling, Unschooling Blog, Video Games

“Easy for you to say unschooling works,” someone told me. “Your kids are interested in academic things. You don’t know my kids. If I unschooled, all my kids would do is play video games all day.”

To which I can only laugh. Because, you see, I could spin it two ways. I could tell you that before my son decided to learn Japanese, he read about how long-term and short-term memory works, and came up with a plan based on his research. I could tell you how my teenage boys have been to three different symphonies, and enjoyed them all. I could mention the programming they’ve worked with. I could tell you how well they work in the family business.

Or I could tell you that all they want to do is play video games.

Both versions of the story would be true. Because they are such avid video game players, they have pursued interests that came from their passion in video games, but their core passion remains video games.

Because of the hours and hours and hours and hours, day after day after day after day, month after month after month, year after year after year of video game playing, they naturally became immersed in Japanese things because that’s where Nintendo headquarters is. That led to their interest in manga and anime. They have Twitter accounts so that they can follow things about video games, and sometimes along the way, the video gamers they follow share an interesting article about something else. They listen to podcasts about video games, which, as podcasts often do, sometimes talk about off-subject things.

Their games sometimes have historical or mythological creatures in them, which gets them curious, resulting in google searches and family conversations.

Because of their love of Japan, I got them each a subscription to Japan crate for their birthdays, where they get a box of Japanese goodies each month.

The symphonies I mentioned? Video game themed. Music from the Zelda video games with footage from the games playing behind the orchestra. Once, the conductor used the Wind Waker baton.

As a matter of fact, through the years, they’ve been so into music because of video games. The Zelda series of games has always been, and remains, a favorite. The main character in the game, Link, plays an ocarina, so they bought themselves and taught themselves to play the ocarina. We listened to some of their favorite video game music on youtube, first on ocarinas, and then we listened to people playing guitar, piano, violin, harp, marimba, you name it. We learned about a lot of musical instruments through youtube, by following their passion for the music in their video games wherever it led us.

They took guitar lessons for awhile, and one of them took piano and trumpet lessons as well. Their sole reason for learning new instruments was to learn to play Zelda songs.

We went to the Renaissance Faire because the Zelda games have a very medieval feel to them. While there, one boy bought a pan flute and learned to play it.

The reason one of them took horseback riding lessons was so he could ride a horse just like Link. We found the most awesome teacher in the world, who was even willing to put the cones he was supposed to ride around in the shape of a triforce.

Of course, we had to sew our own costume so that he could look like Link while he rode. Then we made our own shields out of foam board. Then we decided to try making wooden shields with a jigsaw. We made rupee bags (rupees are the currency in the Zelda games). We hiked through the woods with our shields once, going on an adventure just like Link.

We used Sculpey clay to make triforces and our own ocarinas. We painted on magnifying glasses to make the Lens of Truth.

We went to Nintendo World in New York City.

We made cake pops that looked like Koopa shells. Well, we tried to make them look like Koopa shells. We made pumpkin soup, a delicacy in one of the Zelda games.


I took them to Pax East in Boston, which is a huge video game conference. While there, they were able to play many indie games before they went on the market, hear a panel of video game developers talk about their careers, and hear one of their favorite podcasts live. While we were there, they had their first Pho from a Vietnamese restaurant and fish and chips from a British restaurant.

Some of the very first words they read were video game-related (save, continue) , and some of their earliest reading was video game guides.

They’ve always enjoyed making up their own levels in games, from the time they were little and played Freddi Fish. They spent days making elaborate Lego versions of Mario Party games, complete with their own minigames. This inspired them to work on an idea for a game they wanted to make and sell as an app, which led them to learning some programming. They didn’t follow through on that to completion, at least not yet. Who knows what the future holds.

Some of the programming they learned was aided in part by Minecraft. When one of them was building a giant spider on Minecraft, he did a lot of research on spiders first. When I needed help figuring out drop box, they were able to easily help me, because they’d used it for Minecraft.

Sure, they work hard selling things in our family business. So that they can buy video games and add to their growing amiibo collection. Even when they were younger, they gave a lot of thought (thought that involved arithmetic) to how they would spend their birthday and Christmas money.

I haven’t even mentioned my daughter yet, who when she was around ten, was very into an online role playing game called Everquest. She played during the day when many kids her age were in school, so she played with adults who assumed she was an adult too, but one who couldn’t spell well. She was called “bimbo” one too many times, and because she was taking on leadership roles in the game and wanted to be taken seriously, got serious about figuring out grammar and spelling. She asked me the difference between to, too, and two and their, there, and they’re. She verified spelling of a lot of her words, or looked them up in the dictionary if I wasn’t around. She learned how to use commas and periods correctly. She started to be taken much more seriously in the game.

I never sat down and said, “Today, we’re going to learn about instruments!” or “Today, we’re going to have ocarina playing lessons!” I never said, “Our next project will be sewing a costume!” I didn’t even say, “Why don’t you pick a video game-related art project to do!”

I never said we had to supplement their video game playing with academic things, or told them that they had to “learn something” today. I trusted that they were learning all the time, and that their interests would take them wherever they needed to go. I paid attention and talked to them, and when they asked a question, I answered or looked it up if I didn’t know. I googled lots of things for them when they were little, and looked a lot of things up on youtube for them. When someone said, “I wish I could ride a horse like Link” I considered how we might be able to make that happen, and if they were interested in my ideas, we did them.

And some days, a lot of days actually, all they did was play video games.

18 thoughts on “What if All they want to do is Play Video Games?

  1. Thank you for this! My 6-year old is currently into all things Super Mario Brothers right now – games, videos, costumes, etc. I loved it as a kid and my husband is into video games as well. While I know that he is very interested in lots of things, deep down I have been worried about how much attention Super Mario is getting at the moment. This article really put me at ease and reminded me about all that is behind the game.

  2. Thank you for this post. I’m an avid gamer, raised by an avid gamer, raising avid gamers. This is a gentle reminder that I really do know what I’m doing. Your kids sound awesome, and I too have a Japan obsession, probably for the very same reason.

    Love it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. My kids are educating themselves at home as well and I have never regretted it. I believe that we ARE preparing them the best way possible for the FUTURE they will inhabit. That is our mantra too – they/we are “learning all the time”. And there is ZERO resistance to learning in them. I am so very grateful our life allows us to support them in this manner.

  4. As an Unschooling Mama of two kids who love gaming…I love this post. I do worry sometimes that I should be doing more “activities” with them that are not “Gaming” related, but thanks for the reminded that actually all we need to do is support their passions. In fact, you post has inspired me to write a post myself about our own experience. Thank you again….I’m going to share this post with other parents who need reassurance.

  5. I LOVE THIS POST! Thank you so much. From Freddie Fish (our daughter says the Wild West one was her favorite) to Minecraft to Wizard101, gaming has been part of our lives – enhancing, bringing joy, teaching. Sharing this – thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. Thank you for this article. My son who is 12 years old and plays xbox A LOT.. Now puts controllers together and gives them to his friends. He buys the parts and custom makes controllers. I brought him a soldering gun so he can melt the parts he needs together. So its just the playing he does he has now an interest in engineering. He loves hearing his friends praise his work… Its awesome to see!

    1. Hi Susan,
      They are still teens (16 and 18). They’re still gaming, working in the family business, learning Japanese and fascinated with all things Japan…all the stuff I mentioned in the post. ๐Ÿ™‚

      One of them was excited to get imported Japanese cd’s for Christmas, the other a Zelda-related book and a replica sword. One helped me build a website for the family business and plans to help me when I upgrade this one. We may change directions in business as a family, which would shift and change responsibilities. The possibility of visiting Japan has been discussed, but no solid plans yet.

  7. Hello there – I’m very interested in your articles. I’m not homeschooling yet, but seriously considering it for my 9, 6 (in PS) and 2 year old. I’m just now starting to look into the actually teaching part (been researching HS for a couple of months, but hubby just recently agreed to maybe give HS a try so now I’m actually looking at curriculum). But this idea of unschooling – it intrigues and scares me all at the same time…ha! It sounds lovely! But scary (for me and my personality)! I’m in NY, where I am learning there are quite a few regulations surrounding homeschooling. If a person unschools, how do they explain every quarter what they’re teaching? Or, if I unschool (I’m a big fan at this point of deschooling), for a bit, if I get nervous about it, can I then try and fit in a bit of structured learning? I’m so new to this I have so many questions!

    1. Hi! I love to hear parents thinking about taking their kids out of school. Lucky kids!

      Deschooling and keeping track of unschooling activities–I’ll blog about them in the future. Keep watching for more posts! Keep reading and ask all the questions you’d like. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Deschooling is a process that comes before unschooling really starts “looking” like the learning unschoolers describe. It can take 1-3 months for every month of formal schooling. You don’t want to go back to school-at-home structured learning after you’ve deschooled, or you’ll undo all the deschooling you’ve done!

      As far as state requirements, you do have to follow the state’s homeschooling laws. Every state is different in their requirements. I’m not from New York state, but I did have to hand portfolios in to the school for years in Pennsylvania. I recommend searching out unschoolers in your state and asking them how they handle it. I can tell you that there are lots of unschoolers in New York state who do so successfully.

      Here are a few thoughts that might get your thinking in the right direction for how you would do quarterly reports. You wouldn’t be using curriculum and lesson plans as an unschooler, but you would be doing lots of learning activities. You would just have to write them so that they sound like what the school recognizes as learning.

      For example, my grandkids went to a birthday party recently. The boy at the party loved bugs, and the mom said that his ideal present would be actual bugs. He already had hissing cockroaches as pets. So before the party, my daughter took her kids to the pet store. They bought a blue horned worm and crickets. At the party, someone googled and found out that the “worm” will turn into a moth. At the party, they did a bug craft, had bug-related snacks (ants on a log, etc.), and there were hissing cockroach races.

      So if you were doing a report of all the science related activities that quarter, you could, instead of saying that they went to a fun birthday party of a kid who likes bugs, say,

      Lesson on insects included a field trip to a pet store, learning that caterpillars turn into moths, getting to hold and observe a hissing cockroach, cricket, and caterpillar, bug-related snacks, and a bug craft. Maybe take a picture of the craft.

      You would keep adding to it. Maybe writing about displays that you visited at a children’s museum. Write about going to the zoo. Maybe you found a make-your-own-kaleidoscope kit at a thrift store and in the kit was an explanation of the science behind why it works. You would say, “As part of our study about light, we made a kaleidoscope”. You list books you read.

      You have to be careful, though, as an unschooler, that you don’t plan things based on wanting an impressive quarterly report instead of simply translating your unschooling lives into “educationese” for the report.

      Well, now, I’ve got a start on my blog post about that subject! lol

      But seriously–go find unschoolers in your state. They can help you meet your state’s legal requirements better than I can.

  8. I appreciate this post specifically about kids who are avid gamers, especially since my 10.5yr old son is consumed with Skylanders, Lego Dimensions, Minecraft and pretty much any little iPad simple game + watching YouTube videos of annoying orange! It is clear to me that he is trying to gather information about the world through humor and games that are easy enough for him to succeed (anything too difficult and he’ll just get overwhelmed with frustration and stomp off–a big part of why his sparkle & curiosity faded so quickly after 2nd grade!). We’ve only been out of school a little over a year and after trying different things I’ve finally come to quiet my fear that they’ll never learn anything (a constant struggle due to still being strongly linked to our school friends, with whom my children are very close.). The one thing I have yet to expel from my mind is this suspicion that if my kids don’t choose to go to college and “succeed” in the eyes of grandparents/family/friends, I will be judged “neglectful”. Now that I’ve put that in writing I do see how ridiculous it is. Of course there is no guarantee that any particular way works for everyone, but I am concerned that allowing my son the choice to always choose the level of challenge may backfire since he may never push himself to anyone thing once higher difficulty sets in. But maybe this is just my inexperienced voice of fear whispering in my ear.

    1. It sounds like you are doing an awesome job!

      Rest easy…if he wants to go to college, he can go to college. Unschoolers approach college just like anything else–they find a reason why they want to do it, figure out what they need to do to meet their goals, and then do it.

      And if he doesn’t want to go to college, it is by no means necessary for having a happy, productive, fulfilling life!

  9. Oh! Exactly what I hv been experiencing with my 14 yr old boy.left school 2 yrsago,being at home and only playiing videogames ! but he is learning so much,,! Interest in history,music,expertise in the game..managing money..planning..everything has come thro his passion.so ‘ Learning” is happening all the time !

  10. I’m glad it works out so well for you, but I think limits are in order for my children. There’s a fine line between interest led education and addiction. My gifted child, with his special neurological wiring, overexcitabilities and incredible IQ and abilities is STILL a child. He’s special but not so special as to bypass his humanity and need for healthy limits and more than an occasional no. So, eclectic homeschooling is our gig. We have a lot of unschooling influences, but my child CANNOT spend all his time on video games. He lives in THIS universe and needs to participate on planet earth with the rest of us regular people with average IQ’s. Sorry. Dishes, considering other people’s perspectives, the written word and simply enjoying the quietness if a sunset after a bike ride with their family may not be my children’s number one interest, but I’ll be d-***d if my children don’t participate in our family and community in real time with face time more than they do in the virtual kingdoms of video games. They can certainly play the video games, but not to their heart’s content. Like the rest of humanity, we work within limits and hopefully, with a healthy balance.

    1. There are plenty of unschooled kids with special neurological wiring, overexcitabilities, and incredile IQ. ๐Ÿ™‚

      If you go back and re-read, there are examples in the post about all the things that my kids’ video game interest led us to: a hike in the woods, horseback riding, a trip to the Renaissance Faire, the symphony, music lessons, art projects, cooking together.

      All of humanity, at least those who live a life of relative freedom, has a choice about what kind of life we create for themselves. Where we choose to live, what we choose to eat, how we choose to spend our time and with whom, and how we choose to earn money is all variable and all creates what our limits are.

      I’ve gone on many bike rides with my kids, with their willing participation, but if that wasn’t something they wanted to do, I’d choose having my children’s hearts content over forced bike rides.

    2. I agree H. Neuro studies have shown that screen time trigges the same “good feelings” as drugs, for a child’s brain. There is an addictive factor, which is why, when we give then try to wean sugar and screens, the big-time whining turns on! I love me some unschoolers, and am familiar with the unlimited screen time method, but science and my own intuition put limits here, just like on sweets. and like junk food, if parents decide not to have it easily accesible/ have it in the house, it doesn’t become a problem so much, and you are still unschooling.
      I had a boyfroend in college and actually the reason I broke up with him is that he would sit and play video games a lot. I was working towards my masters and working a job to make money. He was a smart cute genius but living off his mom and although getting great grades, spending much of his free time playing kid games. It was just a turnoff. I wanted peers that liked getting out and about, hiking, intellectual debate, yoga or sports, reading…. It just takes one away from real life.

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