If we’re playing a new game that I’m planning to write about, we talk about it in detail. My kids can get really critical, really quickly. But I can tell from the way they talk that they’re just trying to sound smart. They want to impress me with thoughtful critiques, to say something that I’ll publish. I see a similar phenomenon in my college classroom: I’ll ask students to share their thoughts with their classmates, but since they keep looking back to me for approval, I know that they’re really testing out new perspectives, new ways of being, new ways to identify as mature, critical thinking adults. It’s a good thing. Undergrads do it in response to academic material, pre-teens are much more easily motivated by video games. Either way, they are learning.

After a while, I step away from the gaming console. Like 38% of parents, I start in on daily chores, multitasking to make dinner, run a few loads of laundry, straighten up the house, while the kids keep playing. Soon, the three of us will eat dinner at the table together. We do it every night, but not because I believe in the sanctity of the family dinner. Most of that research is tied up in politically motivated conceptions of “family values.” The family dinner is an issue of subjective morality, not child development.

Let’s be clear: that 1950s Leave It To Beaver image of the perfect weekday dinner table has never really existed in most American homes. But still, it’s a concept loaded with baggage—a source of shame, guilt, and endless social pressure.

According to Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way Things Never Were, Teddy Roosevelt was first among industrial era politicians who “warned that the nation’s future rested on ‘the right kind of home life.’” Almost a century later, Ronald Reagan added his voice to a slew of others, saying that “strong families are the foundation of society.” And now, it seems to be a commonly accepted, albeit misguided, assumption that many of our social problems can simply be blamed on “bad parenting.”

All that moralizing doesn’t serve anyone. Least of all children. Family meals are certainly good for kids, but they are not the magic solution to everything. They work because children need grownups in their lives who consistently talk to them, grownups who challenge their thinking, grownups who model positive ways of being. Neither the location nor the activity is the important variable here. You can also get a whole lot of positive developmental mileage from sharing time with the video game console. There’s even some evidence suggesting that family play time can be more beneficial than family meal time.

That’s good news for Mario. For some time now, Nintendo has been successfully staking out their territory as the “family” game company. And earlier this year, they commissioned Wakefield Research to conduct a survey of families, finding that parents tell their kids, “I’m too busy to play with you” at least once a day. In addition, 48 percent of parents said they “spend more time commuting to work than playing with their kids.” Sounds bleak. But Nintendo must have been thrilled to discover (and share) that 60% of parents (70% of dads and 52% of moms) report playing video games with their kids.