If you want to show your mother how much you love her, buy her a video game this Mother’s Day.
This might seem like an odd choice, but there is no better gift than the gift of meaningful play. Getting your mom a game will help her improve her sense of leisure and the quality of her life.
I’m a mom, and I play video games. (I study them too, which is a bit complicated sometimes.) Personally, when I play video games, I don’t share those games with my son. Occasionally, he will ask me what I am doing and if it’s a game for him, but when I play video games I play them extensively and selfishly. When I play, my play is entirely for me—and that is a good thing. It is also, however, not the only way.
Anecdotally, I’ve spoken to many mothers who have told me stories about the pleasures of playing video games with their children. For example, at one recent birthday party, a mother proudly told me how she, plays Clash of Clans with her sons, and that her parents have even gotten in on the game; three generations, all playing together.
Women have a historically complicated relationship with leisure activities, and most studies on the subject suggest that women’s play is tenuous and fragmented. The women in your life need more leisure that they can get lost in. They need leisure that is overwhelming with identity play, puzzles, art and complex narratives.
Many have written about the overwhelming arguments for the importance of play. I’m not going to recount them all here, except to say that play is important. It is a necessary part of human life. Leisure and play are what gives us hope, what creates stamina for work, what keeps us grounded. The women in your life deserve rich experiences of play that will inspire and sustain them.
All of this is to say: When I suggest that you get your mother a video game for Mother’s Day, it can be for solo play or it can be to play with her. But, whatever your do, get her some play.
Your mother needs video games that will help level her up. We hear so many negative things about video games in our culture: that they are violent, that they are addictive, that they are the backdrop for a toxic culture. And while these things all have a hint of truth, they are also represent the most extreme examples of the medium.
Indeed, some video games are violent, but not all are—and even if they are, who are you to deny well-earned fictional violence to the women in your life? They put up with a lot. If toxic culture is the problem, then dive in with her and help your mother navigate the spaces to help her find the right kind of safe space for her newfound play. The best way to disrupt toxic culture is to replace it with better things.
Similarly, video games are no more “addictive” than other media. (After all, we don’t refer to someone binge watching Netflix as an “addict.”) Plus: I find that when people talk about video games as addictive, they are typically using the word “addictive” in place of “enjoyable,” and what’s wrong with spending your time doing something enjoyable?
Video games are also not only these things. They have changed a lot in recent decades. There are an increasing number of beautiful games, games that evoke real emotions and complex thinking. There are games that can live in your rib cage days after you have played them, reminding you of the experiential stories you could not help but succumb to. They can be found on all kinds of platforms: on mobile devices on computers (via Steam), and on console systems. Do a little digging and you might find a wealth of games you—and your mom—have been missing. These games are literary, epic and important.
This Mother’s Day, your mother, or another important woman in your life, deserves to get some play—and you should give it to her.
Here’s a short gift guide for buying a game for your mother at any budget:
- Low Budget ($3-$10): Consider buying your mother a mobile game. This is least expensive option, but perhaps the most personal. Consider buying her android or iOS games like Florence (a story-game), Monument Valley, Gorogoa, Prune (artful puzzle games), or Reigns: Her Majesty (a deck-building game where she gets to be the queen!). Mobile games may seem tiny and inconsequential, but they are the easiest way to fit small acts of play into your everyday life. This small gift can be truly transformative.
- Mid-Budget ($10-$30): For a medium budget (if your mother has a computer), think about buying your mother a computer game. Steam, an online distributor, is a great place to start. Some great Steam options include Broken Age (a lovely story-adventure puzzle game), Life is Strange or Kentucky Route Zero (two vastly different but compelling takes on the idea of interactive narrative), or Stardew Valley (an in-depth role playing game world).
- High Budget ($50+): If you have the budget and your mother has the access, consider buying her a console game. Or better yet, think about buying her a system like the new Nintendo Switch. Console games can be overwhelmingly enjoyable, and if she has never used a console system before the Switch is a great starting place. (And a great way to play with her!)
Whatever game you chose, don’t forget that buying the game is never enough; make sure to give her the time and space she needs to play.
The Fembot Collective is a collaborative of faculty, graduate students and librarians promoting research on gender, new media and technology. The Fembot community spans North America and Asia and encourages interdisciplinary and international participation.