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Gamer moms add a little family to button-mashing fun

Lesley Woodhouse, right, a long time video game enthusiast, plays a game with her 16-year-old son Austin and 14-year-old daughter Kathleen in their home in Guelph, Ont., on Friday, July 19, 2013.


Lesley Woodhouse has had a controller close at hand since first getting her video game fix at age 12, from the maze-traversing "Pac-Man" to the role-playing adventures of the "Final Fantasy" series.

Three decades on, she has some real-life company as she navigates the virtual world: her teen son.

Woodhouse, 42, and her 16-year-old, Austin, generally engage in two-person role-playing games on PlayStation consoles or computer games. The duo also share a "World of Warcraft" account, so even when they don't play together, they can connect and talk about the popular online fantasy adventure.

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"We don't have as much time as we would like (to play together) because we're also very involved in scouting and he's involved in cadets," Woodhouse said in a phone interview from Guelph, Ont.

It's not as rare as you might think: A 2012 survey survey found 45 per cent of adult women aged 18-34 play video games a few days per week compared to 49 per cent of adult men. The survey (which commissioned by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada polled nearly 3,000 adults in addition to teens and children) found 80 per cent of parent gamers played video games with their child, and 52 per cent of parent gamers reported family game play once a week or more.

Perhaps unhelpfully, Late Night host Jimmy Fallon recently featured a comical compilation of video submissions showing youngsters and adults playing video games with their moms.

"Gaming with my mom" featured the mostly fish-out-of-water mothers exhibiting everything from visible frustration to sheer delight while manoeuvring the controls alongside their kids. But the notion of gaming being a strictly a male-dominated pastime — particularly among younger users — is an outdated one.

Woodhouse said her husband, Phillip, is more partial to computer gaming, while 14-year-old daughter Kathleen plays more on the Wii and Nintendo DS. The family collection of consoles would undoubtedly stir envy among even occasional gamers with the Atari 2600 and several models of PlayStation and Xbox in their possession — not to mention a library of some 300 board games.

Time spent conquering fictional foes in the virtual realm has offered more to Woodhouse and her son than mere escapism: it's helped to further forge a bond and foster communication between the pair.

"We were having a little bit of difficulty connecting with him when he was about 10, and it was a way for us to do that. And now, he's an avid gamer," said Woodhouse.

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"It was something that he saw us doing and so he wanted to do it, and then it became something that we could have a mutual interest in because he's not really into sports and neither are we," she added.

"We're more into outdoors and camping and things, and so it was really hard during the winter especially to connect with him. So that was one thing that I do. My husband does more board games and things."

Woodhouse's gaming know-how has also proved impressive among her son's peers.

"One thing that we have noticed is that when (Austin's) had friends over and they've said: 'Wow, it's really cool that your mom plays games and knows what you're talking about."'

Shari Goss, co-founder of the blog "And She Games...." in collaboration with Deanna Tousignant, offers a female perspective on all things gaming, from apps to board games and beyond.

Goss said that she'll watch her husband play "Halo" and helps him solve puzzles in "Tomb Raider." However, the mother of three said she loves the Wii because many of the games are more family-friendly, using the console to play dance and racing games as well as sports with her sons aged six, five and three.

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Her kids love to go outside to run and play, a little gaming offers an indoor alternative when conditions are sweltering outdoors, like during the recent heat wave, she noted.

"That's their favourite thing. They love to play together. They're always trying to figure out how the four of us — them and me — or the five of us can all play together," Goss, 37, said from Bradford, Ont.

Beyond the chance to be entertained and spend time with her boys, Goss said gaming also offers an opportunity to highlight lessons with her kids about the nature of competition, such as encouraging them to try their best in a game regardless of the result.

"If they don't win, they'll throw a fit and just decide to race down the street because they're boys and they have to race with everything. And I've been finding that this is not only a really good bonding moment but it's also a really good teaching moment," she said.

"I can teach them: 'Oh, you've got last place, but you finished (the game) this time.' "

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