Gaming: Then vs Now

Two kids playing videogames together. Text overlay reads “Gaming Then vs Now”

If you feel like video games aren’t what they used to be, you’re right. The days of Pac-Man and Atari are long gone, replaced with virtual reality headsets and hyper-realistic war zones. Today, we’re sharing a detailed look at what has changed and how you can bring back some of the more relational elements you might remember from your childhood.

Proximity & Access

You and your friends used to sit next to each other while hopping on mushrooms inside Mario’s world. You could chat casually, share snacks and take breaks together. Now, your kids can be playing online with friends across the street, country, or even world. You no longer have to be in the same room to partake in the same game.

The positive to this is that your kids can maintain relationships with friends or family who don’t live locally. It can be a great way for them to share in something together. However, these games are available to anyone, anywhere — meaning your kids could be communicating with strangers who may not have positive intentions. The flip side to this is that some kids are isolated while playing games (not communicating with anyone), which takes away the relational side of video gaming that you may remember fondly.

Display & POV

As technology improves, displays become more and more lifelike. We see it in football video games where you can easily spot who the players are, and in war zone re-creations where there is more gore than seems necessary. As things become more lifelike, it’s important to discuss with your kids how regularly viewing violent material might impact their minds and decision making.

Not only have displays improved, but there is also a change in viewpoint within video games. In older games, you used to view your world or your character from above, but now you can see through the eyes of the character as if you’re really there. Instead of pushing a button to shoot or swing a sword, you are in fact doing that very action. This is even more accentuated when it comes to virtual reality gaming systems.


We know social media developers create their platforms to keep you coming back for more, and the same is true for video games! They even share some of the same tactics. As more data is available to developers, they are adjusting video games to maximize play time.

In our Screen Sanity podcast with Max Stossel, Head of Education & Content for the Center for Humane Technology, he equates loot crates with slot machines. A loot crate is anything that you have to hit or acquire in order to maybe earn something. You may earn something of little value, big value, or nothing at all. Maybe you’ve heard your kids talk about the llamas in Fortnite, this is a great example. The variable reward keeps you coming back for more.

Another tactic you’ll see used in today’s games is a missing finish line. Remember how you used to be able to “beat” a game? There was typically a specific goal or number of levels to complete. Today’s games seem to go on forever, with an endless amount of challenges and levels that keep you coming back. It may seem like you’re making progress, but the finish line is always just out of reach.

Setting Boundaries

Knowing that Big Tech is tailoring the latest video games to monopolize our time and attention can feel intimidating. But approaching your kid with this knowledge can help you empathetically set appropriate boundaries together. Here are some places to start:

  • Be curious about the parental controls available on your gaming console. Do your research when it comes to which consoles, games, systems or computer software you buy. When looking at whether to purchase a new game, a great resource to start with is the ESRB rating.

  • Participate. Whenever introducing a new technology, START always recommends the driver’s ed approach. Try it out for yourself first, and be present when your kids are using it. Discuss the possible dangers and be on the same page about the rules established around the device. This allows you to see what they see, feel what they feel, and decide what is appropriate or not appropriate for your family.

  • Set a boundary on time spent playing video games. The immediate satisfaction, or variable reward, of video games can have an impact on how your kids respond to the world outside of video games. Setting a boundary on time is a great way to monitor behavior changes and keep your kids away from addictive habits. We highly recommend starting with our video game decision tree, and involving your kids in the process. You may be surprised by their willingness to give it a try!