Raising Gamers

There are some interesting challenges that come with raising gamer kids. It doesn’t occur to them that most people don’t play “dragon games,” as our oldest used to call D&D, and that not everyone spends their vacations at Gen Con. They’re full of experiences and ideas that they want to share, but they live in a world that often has no idea what they’re talking about. “Sweetie, you really don’t need to tell Grandma about the Boots of Butt-Kicking in Munchkin. She’s just not going to get the joke.”

But home is a place where all of those ideas are encouraged, and most of the thanks for that goes to their dad. It’s a pretty geeky household—Clark and I both freelance in the RPG industry, we have a regular game group that often meets at our house, and we enjoy a variety of games. But when it comes to actually playing games with the kids, that usually falls to Clark. It’s not that I don’t enjoy gaming with the kids, but as the parent who’s home with them most and who spends tons of time running the kids to lessons and such, I have to admit that I usually cop out when I’m given the opportunity to sit for a few moments with no one asking me for anything.

I love to watch them, though. And I love to see the many things the kids are learning as they play games with their dad.

Things work better when you work together. The stories they tell when playing RPGs are stronger and more interesting when everyone brings something to it; the challenges are easier to overcome when the characters work together instead of trying to steal the spotlight.

There are different ways to approach a problem. Our son is particularly softhearted—when his warrior mouse faced off against the evil troll, it was very important to him not to actually hurt it. This led to some creative problem solving about how to make the troll go away forever without harming it. Just because you carry a sword, that doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job.

Sometimes rules should be adapted or ignored. If it’s more fun to work together to build one huge city in Carcassonne, you can do that. Our kids really don’t like player elimination, so Clark has adapted a lot of our games to be more cooperative. After all, what sense does it make for the Pevensie kids to sacrifice their siblings to the White Witch to get to the end first in the Narnia board game? (OK, so Edmund would at the beginning, but he gets better.) On a daily basis, kids face so many rules they just have to follow. I love that in their games they can look at the rules that don’t seem to make sense and then see how they can be adapted.

It’s OK to win, and it’s OK to lose. It may seem silly to have to learn that it’s OK to win, but our kids hate to see other people fail. Well, they hate to see their parents or friends fail—sometimes they cackle with glee to see each other lose. But both of them will throw a game to help another player do better. Playing games helps them realize that, even though it can be frustrating to lose, it’s not the end of the world. And they don’t have to feel guilty about their own success.

Failure is a challenge, not a block. When the dice don’t roll your way, you need to look at it from a different angle. Sometimes your plans fail, life throws you curve balls, but that just means you need to be more creative. Yeah, that’s easier to do in a game than in real life, but stomping off and pouting doesn’t really solve things in either case.

Games and stories are everywhere. This is part of what makes life fun. With their dad, there are fairies in the woods, a hippo in the basement of the preschool (Henry the hippo moved in with us when our son graduated preschool), and the stuffed animals left at home have basketball tournaments and birthday parties. Waiting for our food at a restaurant is full of math and word games made up on the spot. Our kids have amazing imaginations, and I think this is a large part of why. They make up their own stories and their own games, because they see their dad doing it, both with them and as his hobby. Growing up doesn’t mean you put all of this behind you.

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5 Responses to Raising Gamers

  1. Clark Valentine says:

    Aw, shucks. *blush*

  2. Doug Cooley says:

    By far the most important lesson you give your kids is the example you set. I’m aware of this more than ever now that I have a hyper-observant 2.5 year old grand critter. We aren’t really at the game stage with her yet, but I can already tell that she will be learning from me how to deal with frustration, how to lose (and win) graciously, how to play fair, and how the point of the journey is not always to arrive.

    I’m particularly looking forward to roleplaying, which is such a great imagination workout, and I expect that there will be visits when she has an adventure she wants to run for me. Believe it or not, GMing gave me quite a few life skills that have helped me in other capacities as disparate as directing choirs and managing projects.

    • ayvalentine says:

      Doug, I haven’t had a chance to reply until now because we were at the Origins game convention with our kids (which was awesome – I’m looking forward to reflecting back on that).

      You make a good point about setting an example. We set examples for all the kids we come into contact with, whether we do it consciously or not. I’ve heard that to make your kids lifelong readers, for instance, it’s even more important for them to see you reading than it is for you to read to them. Playing games with kids gives you lots of chances to set those examples – it also gives us adults a chance to learn from their examples. Kids tend to be more cooperative in roleplaying games, not hesitating to take charge of some of the story. It’s a fun dynamic!

  3. Scott Williams says:

    Yeah, we’re going to start the first gaming session with the kids here. Actually, it’ll be Amanda’s first session as well, and it’ll be my first try as a GM. So, lots of firsts. I’m sticking with D&D 3.5 that I’m familiar with and going to run the Dragonlance campaign — starting with the Key adventure in the back of the DLCS, then move through the other adventures as we get there. We’ve made it as far as making characters so far, but even in the summer, finding time to play is ridiculously hard. I’m definitely going to look at this as a trial game, and see how it goes. I’ve already told them there’s going to be no dying, and I’m going to inflate some scores, etc. to help with success rates at the beginning. However, I am hopeful that things will go well.

    • ayvalentine says:

      I’m sure Cam and Clark would me more than happy to help with planning and brainstorming! (As I totally volunteer them without asking…) They’ve lots of experience, though, both with gaming with kids and with adapting Dragonlance stuff. We can talk about that next week when we see you! Yay!

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