Monday, June 15, 2015

Baby & Game (Part 2 - All Fun And Games)

A couple of years ago I read Jane McGonigals book "Reality Is Broken" and eventhough I wasn't overly fond of the book in particular (you can read about it here) I did like the core concept - that through presenting seemingly dull tasks as fun games there is a lot of manpower to be put into useful things. As an example I remember a game that allowed "players" sort through thousands of snippets of old documents found by archaelogists, marking the ones that had letters on them (and which letters), thus saving the actual archaeologists tons of time. I tried this game myself and it wasn't fun, or should I say ellaborate, enough to spend hours on (but then some game concepts are very simple yet keep you hooked) but good enough to jump in every now and then. Even if only a couple of thousand people try it out and spend in total an hour playing it, there is alltogether a lot of time saved for what in reality is a menial task. Hence, Reality Is Broken. The title is actually quite catchy, since it pinpoints something crucial about the world around us. It's easy to make things boring, but it's also not that difficult to make things more fun.

Personally I've noticed that trying to make things more fun for yourself is a much more difficult task than to do it to someone else or have someone else do it for you. Maybe it's a bit like tickling, where it just doesn't work if you try to do it to yourself. Anyone who's tried it knows that sticking to a diet, gym regime or quit smoking all by yourself is a lot trickier than when you have friends who're in it with you. Or if you have some sort of app that allows you to track your progress. I mentioned to a friend at work the other day that the way she was tracking points and progress on her diet was a lot like a game. You're presented with a challenge that you need to overcome and the app gives you clear visual feedback on your progress, something that might be difficult to see if your just checking the scales. I know there are apps that do similar things for smoke-quitters - tracking how much money you've saved and "life you've gained". I once tried a browser game that was meant to make daily chores more fun in allowing for my character to level up and become stronger if I managed to do the laundry and dishes, or die if I failed (I died pretty early on...).

So eventhough the book was so-so, I am a big fan of the idea that by making things more gamey, ie fun, there is a lot that can be accomplished. Both on a society-scale and a personal-scale. I am sure you've also had the thought "if only I put all these hours into a degree/learning an instrument/learning another language/actually writing that book I always wanted to write I'd probably be rich by now". I read the book before I decided to try for a kid and I had embraced the idea long before I read the book but I also think I had fused the two in my head a long time ago. That having a kid could in many ways be seen as playing a game. I made the comparison to Tamagotchi in a post once, and mentioned then that I obviously understand that having an actual child is a lot more serious than "just" playing a game. After all it's another person we're talking about here, not my personal object of entertainment. Unlike a game, a kid is not something to give attention to when you feel like it and ignore when you don't. Nerdraging and rage quitting are not options you should consider. Rather than seeing child-raising as a game, I tried to think about how game-playing could affect my interactions with my child.

If you think about it, they do have a lot in common. There are things you do in games that aren't in themselves particularly fun but that you do anyway because the overall goal is worth it (ie grinding for an item). In the same way there are things you need to do with a child that aren't in themselves particularly fun but that you do anyway because it makes you happy to see your child happy (ie change diaper, read the same book/play the same game for the hundredth time). Most importantly, gaming requires a lot of patience. After having died 150 times to the same boss (yes, it happens), after having failed with the same platforming jump for the 30th time, after having spent 20 minutes on trying to crack a puzzle - having fun will give you the patience you need to give it another go.

Having a 1,5 year old, I realize that whether I say "yes" or "no" about something really comes down to patience. No I don't have the patience to make sure you don't break these things, so I'm not going to let you see them. No I don't have the patience for this to take three times more time, so I am not going to let you "help" me. No I don't have the patience to make sure you don't hurt yourself, so I am not going to let you go there. I decided early on I wanted to avoid saying no to my son just because I didn't have the patience to do it. I wanted my "no's" to mean something to him, hopefully making him understand that when I do say no, it's because it really means no, not because mommy doesn't feel like it. And dealing with a child really requires immense amounts of patience. Even if they're completely well behaved they can require so much energy. It also requires so much more patience since you're dealing with someone who has no concept of time and has very little patience of his/her own.

That's why I figured I would probably do us both a favor if I tried to make things more fun, for myself and for him. It definitely helps that I have the time to not have to rush things, I imagine it'll be a new challenge once I am pressed for time, trying to get to work while getting kid and everything else ready (that'll probably be matters for a future post). But now I have the time to let him help out with cleaning, in fact he has so much fun doing something I find quite boring, it gets more fun for me to do as well. Because he loves watering the plants it actually gets done every now and then, I used to forget about it until my plants started turning dangerously yellow (I am sorry!). Because he loves throwing things in the bin we don't have crumpled papers (like receipts) lying around anymore (and have sadly lost some other things when not looking). We can make a game out of putting away things when you're done with them, getting dressed, brushing your teeth (works some of the time at least), sweeping the floor (he loves that too). If he is having fun with it, I don't have to see it as a chore and it's a lot easier to have patience and energy for it. And to be fair I might as well make the most of it while he thinks it's fun, because I am pretty sure that won't last for much longer.

And obviously not everything is fun and games all the time. I can't have my kid help me with everything (like cleaning the toilet) and I can't be available 100% of the time (he still doesn't really get why I need to go to the bathroom). But the mindset definitely helps offsetting a lot of frustration.

In essence, I think games have taught me not to see an unhappy child as an obstacle but as a challenge, an opportunity for me to learn something and maybe try something different. They have helped me to keep my focus on the goal rather than to feel stuck at a problem, knowing that eventually I will get to the reward even if it feels like hard work at the moment. Those countless wipes in WoW definitely helped me forge that way of thinking and I actually think it has helped me in my everyday life.