Sooooo your teens are probably playing a lot of video games. Do you feel like you don’t understand the appeal? Is your kid obsessed with some games and you don’t know how to connect? Kids find and share meaning through play, and those languages remain important even as we get older. I play a lot of video games myself, and I often times find myself playing interpreter for parents as a therapist to translate. Here are the kinds of language I notice that are used by kids to explain how they play.

Start with the outsides of things. If there’s obvious characters that your kid interacts with, ask them about why they like that character. If they start talking about their personality, how they behave, and how they relate to other characters, your kid connects with a style of “projective play”. They really love getting into stories and pretending to be a character. These games can include elements of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. Your child might spend a lot of time thinking about people.

If your kid talks about the mechanics of the game more than the character (“They jump higher! They do more damage! They have the most powerful move in the game!!”), then your kid might also like the style of “competitive play”. This is usually a game that has a very obvious way to win or lose and usually very clear boundaries within the game. War shooters, sports games, and fighting games tend to have their own spectator audience online, so you might find your teen spending time looking up strategies and watching matches not unlike more traditional sports. Ask them if there are other people who play the game really well that they know about. Your child might really connect with a “coach” mentality in this sense, and might get stuck when switching between competitive mode and people mode.

If your kid talks about the environment (“Check out this cool castle I built!” “Here’s my house where I keep my one million pet monsters!” “My friends and I built this fortress!”), then your child might enjoy the style of “expressive play”. Your child wants you to explore what they’ve made to learn more about them or their friends group. Absolutely let them be your tour guide to their world. Ask them how they would live or move in that space (or who/what would live there).

These styles can pair well together and are not single note flavors. There’s no truly wrong way to play a game, but above all else I encourage every parent to talk to their children about what their kids are looking for in their play experience. Take note of HOW your child talks about how they feel before and after they finish a game.

What kinds of conversations do you hear happening? I’d love to hear them!