When I tell you I have two boys, ages 11 and 13, who are avid gamers, you likely wouldn't bat an eye. But when I add that I, their Mother, also enjoy gaming, well, I can sense your astonishment. It's just that rare to find a gaming Mom.
And I am not just talking about the weeny, E-rated family-friendly games. My boys have outgrown those, and, frankly, so have I. Cute only goes so far before boredom takes over. No, I actually get down-and-dirty in the shooters. Granted, I prefer to run and hide when things get dangerous instead of "Rambo-ing" into the fray, but at least I'm right there with them. In the corner. Behind the door. Trying to heal.
I don't know why so few mothers pick up a controller and try gaming with their kids. Sure, it can be intimidating the first few times. The Owl and The Rhino are so much better than I am at just about every game we have played that if winning were the only object, I would have retired in shame a long time ago. Though occasionally I can offer valuable suggestions; "Try picking up that thing and throwing it at the window!" I will say, when they have been struggling for ages at some impossible level. And when it yields an escape route, they are impressed and grateful and I am, indeed, the Cool Mom, as I sit smugly back in my seat, somehow neglecting to mention that if they had just listened to the lengthy dialogue between the two main characters instead of skipping past it impatiently to get to the action, they would have known what to do all along.
That's one of the areas where Moms excel at games, by the way. We pay attention. We remember what each level's objective is, instead of running off on a tangent to see if you can actually push people into the virtual pool, or take over the alien gun turret, or make the billiard ball go through the teleporter with you.
We're also quite good at puzzles in games. Those levels which bore my boys, where you have to, say, match up the ancient runes on the floor with the markings on the stones and then move them around so they light up--I like those levels. They're so nice and orderly. A place for everything, and everything in it's place. Unlike my messy house.
I am also, I find, excellent at strategy games where the point is to take care of people. Nurturing is any Mom's strength, and, yes, this does come into play, especially in strategy games. One PC (in other words, Windows-running computer) game we like particularly, and which I can recommend without hesitation for kids of all ages, is the Stronghold franchise by Firefly Studios. Though the Stronghold games are fraught with battle opportunities, at their core they are strategy games that require you to build up your Keep, piece by piece. This doesn't just mean putting bricks in place. It means feeding your villagers, giving them jobs--woodsman, for example, cut down trees for lumber, while hunters and farmers feed your troops, and masons gather stones from the quarry. Eventually, you will have enough resources to build an armory, train your troops, create leather armor and mailplate, swords and pikes, but that's only after you have mastered what it takes to truly be the Lord of the Keep. It's a friendly game, too, which welcomes you from the first moment, "My Lord, Your Castle Awaits You!"
[The only caveat I would have is to keep the play offline until your kids are old enough to join the (free!) online multiplayer modes, because in the online mode, strong language flows freely.]
But even if you are not so sure what your particular strengths are just now, there is so much more to be gained by just playing a videogame with your family that winning ultimately becomes irrelevant. This is time spent interacting with your kids, understanding their vernacular ("Whoa! I totally pwned that guy!"), and offering commentary along the way, like "I like that you only go after the aliens, not other people." I strongly believe that parents need to be informed about the games their kids are playing, and what better way than playing right along with them?
Of course, you will have to get used to being condescended to; "Hey, Mom, that was good. Really. Lots better than last time. See? You only let me get 50 points, and you got almost half my score! Yeah, you were set on Rookie while I was on Legendary, but...."
Oh, and that's another thing. When you play with your kids? Make sure they have a handicap.