Monday night is special in our household. Why? Just like everybody reading this website with a similar night, it’s our solitary weeknight where there is not a planned activity that takes the kids right up to the start of bedtime rituals. It is family night, not always a game night as I would have it, but sometimes it is.
It’s an hour before bedtime this past Monday night. My wife and I finished eating a late dinner, decided to bag the dishes until little eyes are sleeping, and split up our two boys for some one-on-one attention. We do not always split them up, but both of them absolutely love it when we do. They get complete undivided attention without having to talk over, knock down, or kick the other boy to do so.
“Which one do you want?” I ask.
“I’ll take Evan”, Lisa, my wife, responds.
“All right, I’ll take Chase downstairs”.
I smile inwardly because Chase, our three-year old, has the best chance of making it through some games. Evan, at a young two, really would rather just throw the pieces against the wall and see if paint chips fly off.
“Chase, you and I are going to play downstairs. What would you like to play?”
“I want to play a game.”
SCOOOOORRRRRRE!!! I mean really, that has to rank up there in the top 10 things for a child to say to a father geek.
He quickly decides on two games, with Candy Land being the first, so we crack open the box and settle down for a game session. I never really know how these are going to turn out due to the attention span of young kids, but I do have a goal in mind. That goal is to teach very basic game playing skills. I have been working on this for quite sometime with mixed results, but like all parenting, persistence and consistency are our main tools for molding our children.
What I consider to be game playing basics really has nothing to do with games. They are just a few basic life skills that happen to be applied to just about every game you come across. The two skills I will be referring to in this article are those of process and community.
In the context of gaming, I define process to be the flow of the game. Experienced gamers call this mechanics, or rule systems. However, it is more than that. It is not just the how, it is also the why. Process is not just the procedure, it is also the experience of the journey.
Pop Quiz: Why do we like games?
Answers will vary, but they all boil down to enjoying the experience. We do not have fun executing procedural rules. We have fun with the experience of playing. We enjoy the journey, not the destination. Rolling dice is not fun by itself, but if you are repeatedly rolling dice for an over-reaching goal, then it’s fun.
Closely tied to the experience part of process is the social aspect of board gaming. “Social” is the whole reason Facebook is a success. Its why people did Multi-User Dimension (MUDs) games, talkers, and more recently Massively Multiplayer Online (MMOs) games of all flavors. Video games are still trying to catch up to what board games have always had; a social experience that gives us a sense of community as human beings.
As a father geek, this is where I have to start with both my two and three year old – the basics. Here we are, sitting at the kid table with Candy Land. We have never completed a game up until this point, but that does not matter. Baby steps, right? So I start with some basics in trying to apply the very simple rules of Candy Land and make sure he still has an enjoyable experience with Dad (process and community). Here are some tips on teaching process, applied to the Candy Land venue:
- Allow your child to choose a player piece, do not choose for him. At its most basic sense, this is part of the process. Chase chose blue.
- Allow your child to execute the next procedural step of the game (i.e. moving their own piece, or drawing a card). Do not do it for him, but gently guide him to stay within the rules. “No Chase, you cannot just skip to the princess, Do you see the next yellow space?”
- Continually repeat the steps out loud. “Its Daddy’s turn to draw a card”, “I drew a blue”, “Now I get to move my little man to blue”, “Now its Chase’s turn”
Of course, you all know a game will get real boring if it’s just rules and process. Making it fun is why the child will come back. As a parent, here is where you follow their lead a bit. If Chase thought it was cool that we both drew an orange card, then I helped make it a big deal – high-fives, some whooping, and some laughing. Instead of just moving a piece, we made a motorcycle sound, then screech on the brakes when we hit our color. I refer you to Cyrus’ article, Word to the Wise, on being a kid again. It is pretty much what it comes down to. It is also where all participants derive the most joy.
We actually finished our game of Candy Land this time with Chase winning. The whole time he was leading he felt bad that my guy was not with him. We had all sorts of fun, and I left feeling encouraged that he is beginning to understand some of the basic tenants of game playing.