Why I bought my kids a Nintendo Switch

I am a firm believer in the value of escapist media, by which I mean content that can momentarily pull you away from the noise and chaos happening in the world.

I've started playing video games with my kids. This is not my normal thing as a mom. Normally, as a mom, I limit screen time and insist on things like reading and outdoor play, but the longer this coronavirus crisis stretches on, the more difficult it has gotten for us in our family.

We miss our friends. We miss our routines. In the void created by coronavirus where all of the things that brought us balance and joy existed is now a constant hyper-focus on this sickness. You can’t click on the radio without ads about coronavirus, masks, closures, and the constant shifting landscape of our times.

Enter the decision to get a new Nintento Switch. I heard from some friends that they were playing video games with their kids, and decided on a whim that it was exactly what we needed to help us beat this coronavirus shutdown malaise.

My husband and I spent some quality time online one evening looking at every online and local retailer’s site, until we finally found exactly one in stock. This was a thrilling success, and our kids were shocked and excited when they saw the box. All of their school friends had Switches and they didn’t really ever expect us to get one.

I am a firm believer in the value of escapist media, by which I mean content that can momentarily pull you away from the noise and chaos happening in the world, that can draw you out of the angst happening in life.

I know it’s not always the coolest to admit to liking video games as an adult, but in the midst of coronavirus, shutdowns, social distancing, and the constant troubling news cycle I’ve picked back up playing games with my children. We picked games to play together, and we sit together and play. And we’re all happier for it.

This isn’t our first foray into handheld gaming. I had a Gameboy Advance when I was a teenager and we’ve played plenty of games on my iPhone. In the current atmosphere, though, my phone is less appealing. With constant alerts and messages, real life is never quite gone when we’re on my phone.

Yet the need to disconnect is vital. Social media posts are centered on the coronavirus right now, or on people’s opinions on what should or shouldn’t be happening. I’ve seen long-running friendships fall apart over differing views on if we should be closing down longer or opening faster. It’s reaching an almost fever pitch where the fight never stops. The stress is definitely affecting my children.

I can’t remember a time I wasn’t connected, so the desire to step away from the news and social media is something rather novel for me. The minutiae of world events still interests me and I still think that being an informed citizen is important. I have, however, become increasingly interested in protecting my moments with my children and family and making sure that the noise from the external world doesn’t intrude on our moments of peace.

This is where Nintendo’s Switch enters into the picture. I know that some games can be played socially, but we’ve stuck to the classics. The Nintendo Online package allows access to dozens of games from Nintendo’s Entertainment System (NES) as well as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).

It’s been a completely pleasant trip down memory lane revisiting the games of my youth. They’re just as enjoyable as I remember. My old favorites are where we started: with Mario, Super Mario 3, and Metroid. We’ve also played Tetris 99 more times than I can count, passing the Switch from person to person, seeing who can last the longest.

In these moments, the outside world falls away. We’re not worried about how long we’re inside, missing friends—and we miss friends a whole lot. The stress of this situation on teens, preteens, and elementary-aged children might be different than that of the stress on adults, but it’s just as important and needs to be addressed. Their world also changed overnight, lost to a pandemic they have no control over. Their routines are gone. They don’t know when this will end.

They don’t know what life will look like after this, or will normal will come back. How can they when we, as adults, are struggling to understand the very same issues? Escapist moments of gameplay are important for us right now. It draws us together, from the oldest of the children to the youngest.

Economic instability is reshaping our jobs and future careers moment by moment. Families are struggling to pay bills, to find ways to keep regular groceries in the home, and health information changes by the hour.

This pandemic has upended the way we parent as a family, shifting our stances on media and electronic usage, loosening our guidelines on how much time we let them interact with screens. Just as the information and best practices for COVID-19 seem to shift constantly, we’re trying to be flexible, adaptable, and patient with both ourselves and our children, evaluating where they are in the moment and meeting their current needs.

This time has launched a whole parenting philosophy coined pandemic parenting, with parents stepping away from old expectations and trying to find new paths in the current reality. We’re outside normalcy. If you’re currently reevaluating how you address any aspect of childrearing, including education, you’re not alone. You’re in the company of every parent struggling to make the best choices for their family, for each child in that family, right now.

All of this will settle down in the future, as communities slowly reopen. But our need to keep sidestepping into the calm, into escapist outlets, will continue far into the coming months.