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Kids and Gaming – Second Opinion

Speaking as somebody whose 10-month old dropped a Destroyer on the ground today and broke the axe I think this article is very timely. Also, the first picture is awesome.

At the moment Jack’s favorite game is, “Can I Fit This in My Mouth!” which he’s getting very good at. Hopefully he’ll move on from there to other things, like, “Can I Put This Space Marine in My Mouth”, and “Can I Get This Space Marine Out of My Mouth”.

There was another article at Simple Dollar that raised the question of, “How do I teach my child Chess”. Basically the advice was start with a limited number of pieces and work up from there.  Interestingly this is the same strategy for teach Warmachine and Hordes that we use in the Pressgang. Teach the Battlebox, or even just the Jacks at first and then add units, more complex rules (arcing, power attacks etc). I’m looking forward to teaching Jack all these games, or at least trying to. Of course, if he’s into soccer then we’ll figure that out too.

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Risk Legacy Thoughts – Response

I tried to post this at Geekdad, but my firewall hates Disqus:

Very interesting take on this. I’ve been discussing this game with the folks at my local game store and they raised an interesting point. Essentially the claim is that the ‘game’ is the 15-game sequence/campaign. You can keep your copy after that obviously, but that the point of the exercise isn’t so much that you END-UP with a customized board, but rather the ‘quasi-roleplay’ aspect of playing through the campaign with your friends to customize the board. Almost like a mini-D&D campaign, it only really works if you play with the same group each time.

Treat it more like a singular experience of playing through an RPG adventure and less like an updated version of Risk and it might sit better.
Caveat: I say this not having actually played it myself at all, but only having discussed with folks at http://www.gamesandstuffonline.com/ who are embroiled in more than one campaign simultaneously.


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Wargaming and Kids

Found this really interesting article today on Wargaming Tradecraft, one of the many gaming blogs that I follow. Eventually I’ll put up a blog roll, but until then, I’ll just link to stuff like this occasionally.

With Jack only being 8 months old I’m not really dealing with these issues yet, but I think/hope there will be a time when he wonders about, “Daddy’s toys” and wants to learn to play or hobby or something more than just trying to put Space Marines in his mouth. He’s allowed to eat the Space Marines, nobody likes them, but Warmachine figures are still under lock and key.

I have friends with kids that are 3 years old-ish, and they’re just getting into board games. What’s most interesting to me is that some parents haven’t gotten beyond Chutes and Ladders and Candyland to find the broader universe of games, while others, mostly from my Warmachine gaming group, have already taught their kids all kids of more ‘advanced’ games, and let them watch  when we play stuff that even confuses me, like Agricola!

A great site for those more game-y games for kids has been Father Geek, particularly the reviews, where you can get a real sense of what his kids have enjoyed. I only hope Jack lets me turn him into a little geekling too. This is about as far as we’ve gotten:

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Editorial: The Problem Solver


The Problem-Solver


I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who is not, by nature, a ‘gamer’ recently and he made an interesting comment: “Why do you need to have more games than just the ‘classics’ like Chess?”

This is actually a reasonable question. After all, Chess has been around in one form or another since about 600AD, a lot longer than Settlers of Catan. Chess exemplifies the maxim of, “simple to learn, a lifetime to master”; Chess has a long history of organized and competitive play around the world; Chess has an organized system for players to rate and match themselves against any other player; Chess is strategic and tactically complex in a way few other games approach; and most of all Chess is fun!

But even listing all those elements, why do you never see gamers playing Chess? why does everybody own a Chess set and so few people play it regularly in their hobby game time?

I believe the reason is tied into being a ‘gamer’ and what that means.

First though I want to revisit that conversation with my friend, because I think it highlights the key difference between ‘gamers’ as a type and other people and helped me to clarify why gaming is such an important hobby to me.

I believe the fundamental difference is that ‘gamers’ view game-playing as a skill or an activity unto itself, while non-gamers see game playing only as a skill of playing that particular game, like Chess. Gamers might play Chess to enjoy the interplay of strategy and tactics, of planning, of the social pleasure of victory or defeat, but a non-gamer might only see playing Chess as a way to practice and improve your ability to play Chess.

My friend actually espoused this viewpoint in our conversation, “there are so many things to know about Chess that I don’t see how I’d have time for other games, if I got into it.” I think that this is the attitude of an athlete, not of a gamer.

An athlete usually picks a sport or a skill and practices it, and trains their body and their mind to the performance of that skill, and, at a very high level tends to not practice other skills in other sports choosing to focus on achieving excellence in one area rather than in every sport. Similarly for high level Chess players, there are reams of books written about strategy, and lists of moves to memorize for efficient play and an endless lifetime of the pursuit of excellence in that skill, but to what extent does being excellent at Chess help you win at Carcassonne?

A gamer, in contrast, is practicing a different set of skills, not the skills of soccer, or of Chess, but the skill of ‘game-playing’ which is, I believe, as valid and valuable as the ability to kick a ball, or know the opening to Kasparov vs. Deep Blue.

What is the skill of ‘game-playing’? What are you learning when you pick up a new game, and more importantly why is it valuable, fun and for some gamers, so compelling a hobby?

A short list: the ability to socialize in a confrontational environment; the ability to prioritize actions in response to novel situations; the ability to develop strategies in a new environment; the ability to adjust those strategies as the environment changes; the ability to process new instructions; the ability to be a gracious loser and a humble winner.

In short, you’re practicing and learning valuable skills for LIFE, not for games, when you pick up a copy of Dominion and I strongly believe that in doing so you’re putting yourself ahead of non-gamers. Take a look at that list again. Every one of those skills is valuable in a work or professional environments, some of them are critical to successfully navigating the modern world. They’re valuable in relationships, negotiations, novel problem solving. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the decision-making skills I learned playing Magic when I was fixing my sink, not because I knew how to play Magic, but because I knew how take a situation and say, “okay, I’ll try this…that didn’t work, now I’ll try this other thing…hmm, that was better, what if I change it a little and try this last thing.”

There are studies indicating that game players do in fact see benefits of the kind described above. The work of James Paul Gee and Jan Mcgonigal are good places to start for further reading. Additionally, there is anecdotal evidence that employers are using game playing as a litmus test for certain kinds of skills in the workplace, and more to the point, as evidence of a particular worldview.

The only way I know to develop this viewpoint, and to grow those skills is to play games. Certainly it’s the most fun way! But not to play the same game exclusively, because then you’re not learning to play games, but to play a game, and that’s less useful than developing the wider toolbox of skills described above.

The gamer is ultimately a highly trained, engaged, curious problem solver, whether the problem is defeating your friend in Warhammer, scoring points in Lost Cities or yes, even checkmating your opponent in Chess. You’re developing your ‘gaming-brain’ or your ‘decision-making muscles’ every time you pick up a game, and more importantly every time you pick up a new game. You learn these skills, which are inextricably about coping with novelty and change, best when you face new situations, new rules and new games.

The skills of gaming, and subsequently the hobby of gaming for many, are the skills of breadth, of taking a large number of experiences and a wide body of knowledge and applying it to new situations, rather than taking one domain, or one situation and studying it completely. Both are valuable, and both can be fun, but as I think more about raising my new son I know I’ll be leaving a copy of Settlers in his room, and hoping someday he can beat me at Chess.

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