The last move was to fine-tune the time-limit rule. (I love how this turned out, for purely selfish reasons.) My wife and I noticed the boys enjoyed gaming together but couldn't always agree on what to play. So while Phineas might normally be happy to play Super Smash Brothers with Benny, if it was going to count as his game time, he'd often opt to sit out, saving his time for his own choices. The same went for Benny when Phineas was playing. I had hoped video games would be something they could enjoy together, but after several months joint play was becoming increasingly rare. Gaming was starting to feel isolationist, plus when they played consecutively it blew a two-hour hole in the middle of our family's day. The solution was to change up the rules again. On game days they'd each get a half hour of freely chosen game time, and the other half hour would be spent with the three of us playing something together. This didn't work; we quickly found that for three people trading off a single controller and trying to solve problems together, 30 minutes is a frustratingly short chunk of time. It was Phineas' idea to alternate. Every other game day they'd get an hour of free-choice gaming apiece. The following game day the three of us would spend an hour playing together.
I'm not ashamed to admit that the play-together days quickly became the highlight of my week. The experience is reminiscent of another of our favorite activities, my reading aloud to them. There's something magical in experiencing stories with other people. But while books turn out the same way every time, in a video game the outcome depends on our input. We're not just hearing a story, we're helping create one.
I look at it this way: Our kids are growing up in the 21st century. Video games are going to be part of their lives whether we like it or not. When they're chosen carefully, games can be an exercise in cooperation, group problem solving, brainstorming, and working through frustration. And they can bring your family closer. I'm sold. But you probably guessed that by now.