Families at Play

From The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning

Families at Play

Connecting and Learning through Video Games

By Sinem Siyahhan and Elisabeth Gee

How family video game play promotes intergenerational communication, connection, and learning.





How family video game play promotes intergenerational communication, connection, and learning.

Video games have a bad reputation in the mainstream media. They are blamed for encouraging social isolation, promoting violence, and creating tensions between parents and children. In this book, Sinem Siyahhan and Elisabeth Gee offer another view. They show that video games can be a tool for connection, not isolation, creating opportunities for families to communicate and learn together.

Like smartphones, Skype, and social media, games help families stay connected. Siyahhan and Gee offer examples: One family treats video game playing as a regular and valued activity, and bonds over Halo. A father tries to pass on his enthusiasm for Star Wars by playing Lego Star Wars with his young son. Families express their feelings and share their experiences and understanding of the world through playing video games like The Sims, Civilization, and Minecraft. Some video games are designed specifically to support family conversations around such real-world issues and sensitive topics as bullying and peer pressure.

Siyahhan and Gee draw on a decade of research to look at how learning and teaching take place when families play video games together. With video games, they argue, the parents are not necessarily the teachers and experts; all family members can be both teachers and learners. They suggest video games can help families form, develop, and sustain their learning culture as well as develop skills that are valued in the twenty-first century workplace. Educators and game designers should take note.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262037464 216 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 6 b&w illus.


  • Siyahhan and Gee have successfully expanded the conversation around video games and learning to include a familial discourse; looking inside families contributes in a new and timely way. This book can teach families how to use games for family learning, negotiation, affinity building, and positive conversations, and provides new perspectives for experts in games and learning literature.

    Seann Dikkers

    Department Chair, Associate Professor of Education, Bethel University

  • There are a lot of misconceptions about video games among parents and families, but much of research on gameplay is out of context and ignores the home. Siyahhan and Gee's book fills in this gap, focusing on gameplay within the family, hearth, and home. In so doing, it promises to correct many misperceptions of the medium by way of serious attention paid to how families really play. Often together, sometimes at odds, across generations, and always in a bidirectional influence between media and context. It's brilliant work.

    Constance Steinkuehler

    Professor of Informatics, University of California, Irvine; President, Higher Education Video Game Alliance