Vir's Archive

Friday, June 7, 2013

Emergent Gameplay via Parenting, Tabs for 2y/os, and Other Musings...

Lets take another break from Sci-Fi to take about gaming and parenting. 

In the last couple months, as my daughter’s coordination and speech have improved by leaps and bounds, so has her capacity to engage in games.  

My eldest daughter is rapidly approaching 3 y/o and hitting the first stages where she and I can play “real” games beyond itsy-bitsy spider and singing BINGO.  It’s a great age.  Lots of work, but I find that I enjoy this stage of her development a bit more than when she was a little, little baby.  As a new-ish parent, I am reminded of the standard platitudes often – that you will be amazed at their development, that you will love them more than you knew – that stuff.  I am here to say that all those platitudes are not correct.  Love, attention, and fascination hit us all differently and we will all get our energy to keep up with our kids from differently places.

Not surprisingly, I have found I become really engaged and excited when my eldest wants to play a game.  At this age, its fascinating to see the cognitive and competitive parts of her thinking come together.  Just a few months ago we tried to play hide-n-go-seek and it was a sad failure.  My daughter didn’t quite get the idea of having to wait to count nor did she understand the idea of hiding as a game. Now?  Just a few months later, we are not only playing a number of common games, we are making up our own.  

Physical Games

I can see her mind processing games all the time – including at inopportune points.  Lately, E has started to run away from my wife and I when its time to go out.  This is a form of game play, simple tag in this case, with a captive (and increasingly frustrated) audience.  When I saw her doing the run-away thing a couple times, it was an easy transfer of those skills to the playground where we play “Tiger.”  For whatever reason, chase and tag don’t resonate with her.  I tried to explain the simple catch games to her – “I chase you, you run away.  If I catch you, you chase me,” but that was too esoteric for her. So, I switched it around and told her I was a tiger and would chase her.  She immediately understood that, and now “Tiger” is a staple of our outside play.  I introduce complexity once in a while such as her friends also being tigers or, most recently, safe zones where the tiger cant go.  Since safe zones were introduced, E has learned how to taunt. 

We are also working on Hide’n’go’Seek. Standard Hide’n’go’Seek is a bit beyond her right now, though.  When she hides (sometimes with the help of her mother) she is so tickled and excited she cant but help to announce “here I am, daddy!” after 10 seconds or so.  She is much better at counting and then coming to find me, but the symmetry of me hiding then her hiding hasn’t quite developed. All that said, I always smile when I see some squiggles coming from under the blanket as she cant help but help me out by telling me “Daddy!  Here!”  Her heart is in the right place. 


Playing "pretend" is just roleplaying without polyhedrals.  

We are also in the early stages of roleplaying together.  I imparted my love of dinosaurs on her, and so we really enjoy playing dinosaurs, which involves us pretending we are dinosaurs by stomping around, making fierce faces and making our best roars (she is a champion roarer).  My daughter also has an inexplicable love for robots.  So, one of the variations on “Tiger” is “Robot” where I stomp around stiff like a robot and make tickle “attacks.”  E has evolved the game on her own and introduced her own rule variations, demanding that as a robot I have to say “mi-churd.”  I don’t know where “mi-churd” came from, but it sounds suitably robotic, and I am happy to play along with her rules.  I think it empowers her to know that her rules are just as valid as mine.

(Mi-churd”, BTW, is an example of the truest form of emergent gameplay.) 

E has also started mimicking TV characters on her own.  During a game of Tiger she unexpectedly changed the rules to make herself Mike the Knight and me the Dragon.  She demanded I roar and “fly” (hold out my arms).  As “Mike the Knight” she added a rule where she could now touch me with her hand, which was now a sword, and make me stop.  We have now played Mike the Knight a couple times, and the rules have stayed consistent. 

I guess that may have been our first game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Huh. 

We havent hit dressup and pricess yet with E, I expect that is around the corner.  


Traditional games like Chutes and Ladders are still a bit beyond her, as is Hungry Hungry Hippos.  She really, really wants to play Hungry Hungry Hippos, and we own a little travel version, but the detached concept of boardgames still don’t quite mesh.  However, her language capacity and reasoning skills are growing amazingly fast – so fast I notice the improvements day to day.  I expect abstract concepts like simple boardgames are only a few months away.   


TV helps.  In the last couple months I saw E start to respond to prompts on the TV.  When Dora asks a question, E will eagerly respond.  I think she sees it as a game.  I know some parents are down on TV, but I have seen some amazing jumps through educational programming.  E probably watches too much TV, but so do I.  So there you go.

Space Pango!  Pro tip: this is an app you should nab.  
The really amazing stuff in terms of gaming is, not surprisingly, with the aid of computer technology.  We all know kids are getting more and more capable with technology, and E is no exception.  We has an ASUS Ee-pad that we bought, in part, as an entertainment center for the many long overseas trips we have to take.  My eldest took to the tablet almost immediately, and since she has been about one and a half, it has been a staple of her day’s entertainment.  I have been selective of the apps I download for her, trying to find ones appropriate for her hand-eye and cognitive control.  Its been a bit hit-and-miss, with more hits and misses.  The tablet and its near infinite variety of games and puzzles have been great for her.  Not long ago she would struggle with e-puzzles, now she is a pro.  The tablet has helped develop her brain in all sorts of gaming ways, from virtual playhouses (imagination), to memory games (retention), to alphabet challenges (word play).  As she gets older and the games get easier, I present her with new challenges. 

(Incidentally, if anyone wants suggestions on good, age-appropriate gaming apps for little ones, drop me a line.)

The tablet has been great for fostering a love of books as well.  Interactive e-books are amazing tools.  They are also great for quieting a fidgety toddler on planes.  If you have a child, and don’t own a tablet of some sort, change that immediately.

Boo for me.  
To my chagrin, I made the mistake of letting her see me play a simple side scroller called Zombieville USA.  E immediately took to it, even though zombies eating people is wildly inappropriate for that age.  Her mind clearly wants to go more advanced with the dynamic animation and bright colors – even if she isn’t quite ready for it.  


So, there it is.  Just over 2 and a half, and we are already playing games any adult would recognize.  This is a great age and really has me excited for the next couple years.