How do you meter video game playing time?

It might be a sign of us buckling under to cultural pressure or perhaps the ongoing weight of constantly feeling like we’re saying “no” to our children as they too process the divorce and changes in their lives, but Linda and I have agreed to let the kids have some Nintendo Wii play time this summer and each of us bought a unit and hooked it up.
First off, the Wii is one amazingly fun and brilliantly engineered device. With its motion-sensitive wireless controllers and the forced feedback mechanism, it’s light years ahead of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, based on my experiences with all three.

Further, Nintendo has remembered that the key most important criterion for a successful video game system is fun and while the PS3 or Xbox might have more visually attractive games with more “polygons” and better smoke and shadow filters (yadda yadda, technical specs) the Nintendo games are far more fun for the average casual video game player.
In particular Wii Sports is the Oscar-winner of the entire video game industry, as far as I am concerned. Children or adults, the tennis, golf and bowling games are sure to capture your imagination and attention, and it’s really no surprise at all that the Wii appeals to a much wider demographic than the more geeky PS3 and Xbox devices.
But here’s the challenge, and it’s a challenge for any electronic medium, not just the Wii: how do you measure how much time your children should have and how do you enforce it in a way that doesn’t involve arguments, fights, games ended mid-way and unhappiness?
I started out thinking “thirty minutes per child” but that didn’t work well. Then I thought “each child gets to choose two games that they play” but that’s not sustainable either: one game is two minutes long and the other 20.
Complicating things most of the games are multiplayer, so if, say, A- wants to play tennis with G-, does that match count for both of them or just her?
I know that there are slick device timers like the Bob, but those don’t have any way of taking into account that they might be in the middle of a game and I know I’d find it extraordinarily frustrating if it shut down my game mid-swing or mid-bowl.
So, dear blog readers, any suggestions on how to have my children enjoy some Wii play time without it taking up hours and hours and hours of a perfectly beautiful summer day, but still letting them have enough time to have fun?
My entire family thanks you!

8 comments on “How do you meter video game playing time?

  1. My daughter is still young enough that computer play time is easily cut off by my setting the kitchen oven timer and saying “when it starts beeping, that’s it” and shooing her outside or off to do something else.
    BUT… that doesn’t mean I don’t have plans in place to deal with it come that stage.
    There are a number of devices out there these days that make the arguing a moot point. I’ve seen a review for this:
    Which can be used for a Wii or PS3 the same as the TV – b/c the method by which it works is locking the powersource inside the box.
    I like this one b/c it has the token operated aspect. That way tokens are earned or rewarded rather than just programmed in.
    There’s other options like this one out there:
    it’s more a matter of how you want it controlled.
    I’d say that you’re on the right track timing-wise… maybe tell them they each get 30 minutes – but if they’re playing with the other child (a la tennis) that session gets to be 45 minutes instead?
    It’s hard doing this, isn’t it? :\

  2. For what purpose are you measuring the playing time? I would be more concerned with the child playing Halo on the XBOX or PS3 isolated in a dark room, then kids playing Wii Sports which requires physical movement.
    If you’re wanting to limit time so that your kids will get outside, or be involved in other summer activities, then I suggest having a game day (or days). You can then match the time spent playing the Wii against time used for other activities.
    I would also be more inclined to make the Wii a family event, which makes it easier to say, “OK this is the last game today.”

  3. I tend to give loose time limitations, 30 minutes normally, and when the timer goes off, I ask them to finish up. Not really too difficult. The only time I interrupt a game is if they start a new one after I’ve told them to finish up, because…well you know.
    Am I being overly simplistic or am I missing something about the Wii? All we have is the computer games and a DS.

  4. Hey Dave!
    I saw something interesting once. A guy hooked up a stationary bike to power the TV and the kids had to ‘ride’ to get things charged.
    As long as they were willing to expend the effort charging up the TV, they got to watch their ‘battery’s’ worth.
    That may not work for some kids. My kid would have probably passed out from riding to watch.
    You need to know your kids and guide them from where they are.
    A great resource for a lot of things related to being a parent: The Love & Logic Institute
    Things like this and others. It is dynomite material and helped me out. My daughter just turned 25 last Saturday and thanks to the material from L&L, etc. she is really something.
    She understands the consequences of her actions and is quite a woman now. She even calls me for advice!
    Best of luck, I know where you’re coming from,
    Pam Hoffman

  5. I would limit games to 30 min a day or 45 if two are playing. Plus the idea of game day is good. Good grief, you live in paradise with the weather-playing a game inside just doesn’t make much sense! Shoo them outside-do you have space where you live to allow them garden space to grow plants or just muck about in the dirt? I have fond memories of making towns out of dirt, sticks and rocks. Of course then my little brothers would want to flood the towns. hahah Which would evolve into water fights, which was great fun! I hav photos of all 4 of us soaking wet and being covered in mud; I guess we were rather feral.

  6. I bought the Wii for my nephews, they love it! I am against it for my own child though, good thing she is only 9 months old!!!
    We had a battle about the time limits today actually, I think 30 minutes for one player is enough and of course the boys believe they need an hour. So I decide if they play two player they can have an hour, which is almost like playing for the 30 minutes each. I don’t know if that even makes sense now that I am typing it. =) But with four of them playing I couldn’t let them be caught up in video game land all day. I usually agree to let the boys play after our walk to the park as long as everyone has normal child behavior, which means they are pretty good and they usually are. I am just glad the girls are not very interested in the video games, maybe when they are older. My question is when is the right age to start playing video games?

  7. Well, what I would do is say one hour, and make sure:
    Room is bright.
    Games that are being played are not TOO violent.
    Study the games they play. Get in some background information.
    Make them play where most of the action in the house (Chores, cooking, ect.) takes place.

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