At last, a “week of lists” list for you gamers out there… and some parenting mojo tossed in to boot. I had an interesting experience a couple weeks ago when I was parle to a conversation between a few of the (middle-aged) women in my running group, astonished that “grown men in their twenties” were playing VIDEO games! Grown MEN! Have you ever HEARD of such a thing? GASP! I chimed in and told them that I was in my thirties, played video games, and not only was my wife just fine with that, she played with me… and we’ve been turning our daughter into a gamer, too. This is what we play, though not all are video games.
1 : Paper? Tic-Tac-Toe
I will admit, I was prompted to write this particular topic because of some recent gaming experiences with my daughter. The one that stands out is this: we were out for dinner, just her and I, because Karin was out of town for work. While waiting for our food, Claire drew a tic-tac-toe board on her little kid’s activity sheet, then challenged me to a game in that I-can’t-say-no kind of way. She went first. And… long story short, she beat me: fair and square. She kicked her old man’s backside with a sheet of paper and a purple crayon, and I just sat there kind-of shocked for a few seconds letting that sink in, her wearing a great big grin across her face. It was not her first game, but still…
2 : Outside? Shadow Play
In a list earlier this week I specifically talked about what I see as the value of shadows in being a more fun and involved dad (or parent in general.) I alluded to the quality of dancing with one’s silhouette whilst out and about in the park and for walks with your kids, and the joys inherent in simple games involving shadows. I reiterate here: Shadow games are great. Sure, they’re not complex and don’t often involve a lot of strategy, but — almost by definition — you’re playing a game together, chasing shadows, running, jumping, racing, darting, dodging, and using your imagination all the while. Try shadow tag, shadow theatre, or just seeing who can have the biggest (or smallest) shadow on a sunlit evening when the light is low and long.
3 : Digital Construction? Minecraft
Claire calls this indie-gem “Daddy’s chopping game” and not only does she sit on my lap and direct construction of inventive little structures she dreams up right there on the spot that I’d never have thought to build on my own, but she derives this twisted little pleasure from having me run out and catch the gaze of various mobs (zombies, creepers, skeletons and other night-time monsters) and then run squeeling (her, not me) back into the shelter of our various castles, towers, and tree-forts. It is also something of a testiment to good user interface that, having picked up a copy of the iOS/iPad version of the game, I only had to show that it existed to Claire and she dove right into “Create” mode and started building her own little structures: trains and forts and other colourful creations. She’s only four, remember.
The first time I beat her at chess I had to sit Claire down, tears streaming from her eyes, and explain it to her this way: “Chess is easy to learn and hard to win. Do you know who is going to win the next time we play?” She shook her head. “I am.” I said. “And I’ll win the next time, and the next time, and the next LOTS of times.” This made her more sad, of course. “But,” I continued, “Chess is a grown up game that kids can learn and the more you play the better you’ll get. I’m not going to let you win, but someday you will win, so you need to keep practicing.” She wasn’t impressed — at least not right away. But now she seems to be warming up to the idea that there is something special about understanding chess, and she’s been picking up on its pervasiveness in our culture… so I think I’d better get used to playing a lot of chess very soon.
5 : Digital Simulations? Rollercoaster Tycoon
I don’t know what prompted me to haul Claire up on my lap one Saturday morning and show her the (uber-discounted from Steam) version of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 I’d been playing. Maybe it was the fact we were preparing for a trip to Disneyland. Maybe it just seemed like it might catch her interest. Whatever it was, she loved it. All at once it brought out the creativity, the fascination with building things, the fun of theme park rides, and the let’s-play-dress-up girl in her, all at once. We built a haunted halloween themed roller-coaster park and rode along with dozens of little animated park visitors on our creations. And now it’s a regular in our daddy-time gaming rotation.
Many years ago our friends helped us break out of the american-stlye board game rut, discard our Monopoly fascination, leave our Pictionary days in the past, and toss Cranium under a bus. Instead, we started into modern european-style gaming habit with titles like Settlers of Catan, Small World, and Carcassone. Of course, we were all childless and broke when this happened, but along with kids and experience came a bit of spare change… which we immediately applied all three into the purchase of games like Kid’s Carcassonne. A tile-based strategy game based on it’s more advanced grown-up cousin, we can expose our daughter to the awesomeness of tile-based strategy gaming and we get to avoid yet another round of The Very Hungry Caterpillar game, which is mediocre in oh, so-many-ways I can’t-even-begin to…
7 : In the Car? Three Questions
I seem to recall writing about this little game of ours in a previous post. It’s a simple little thing that I dreamed up in a deluded moment one evening while putting her to bed. Mostly it blossomed out of the fact that she’s a kid with a million questions — but she’s also a kid who likes to draw out her bedtime as long as possible. So I said: let’s play a game… you can ask me any three questions you want and I’ll answer them as best as I can. It was a hit. Now we play it pretty much whenever we have ten free minutes alone, which is most often in the car when we’re driving somewhere. She’ll ask: “Dad, can we play our questions game.” And so we do. Mostly the questions are silly, little “what are ______ made out of…?” prompted by something outside the window, but there is also a parenting bonus that comes when she asks me something more serious or deep. Yeah, maybe this last one isn’t a proper “game” per se, but hey… milk that play-and-learn mentality for all it’s worth, I say.