Why We Play Games in My House

photo (29)By Jeremiah It occurred to me just a few nights ago while playing a prototype version of the Kickstarting Pigpen with my family, that some of the more deep and meaningful side benefits of playing games—sitting at a table instead of staring at the TV screen—were coming to fruition in my boys.

Yes, we play games in my house, quite often. We haven't relegated games to a family game night; games come out whenever we have the time, and what we play is determined by that days schedule. My schedule can be erratic at times, so it's often tough to schedule anything on a weekly reoccurring basis. So, what are these side benefits I'm speaking of?

Well, first off, because of the nature of board and card games, we are all excited to sit down, and interact with each other at the game table. It's sad, but many families today don't have time to even sit and have dinner together (which is sometimes the case in our home, although I'm glad to say this is the exception not the rule), but sitting at the game table and playing games together is something that my boys get excited about, and will actually choose over playing Skylanders or watching TV—score!

Secondly, my oldest just turned seven, and my youngest very recently turned five. My oldest is going into 1st grade in just a few weeks (where did summer go?!!?), and at the end of his kindergarten year he tested at an above-3rd-grade level in math! Now, I'd like to attribute some of that sheer genius to his genealogy, and the hard work of his mother and me to keep him on top of his academic journey and growth. But I've noticed as we've played games over the summer that we've reinforced, in a fun way, his math skills, and have seen improvement over the summer instead of him forgetting all that he's learned during the school year. I've also found myself finishing up a game with my boys, and as we are putting it away, I'll look at the box to find that it's recommended for children ages 10, 12, 13 years and up! Again, they're smart because of the gene pool they come from. But I think we can credit some of that development, and sharpening of their strategic and logical sensibilities, to repeatedly being taught, and playing new board games. They've become very well versed in learning rules, player turns/interactions, teamwork (in co-op games), and win conditions. This type of brain exercise can only help them in the future with academics, athletics, and eventually the workplace

photo (28)And finally, and possibly most important, we have seen an impact in the growth of their character. Competitive sportsmanship has slowly but surely begun to sink in and become second nature. My wife and I make it a point to stress that we can have fun playing the game and trying to win, but there has to be one winner, and if it isn't you that's okay, you'll get a chance next time. Certainly there is plenty of excitement as a game draws to a conclusion, especially if it's a close game! But no one runs away in tears if the game doesn't end in their favor.

I'm a very competitive person (it probably has something to do with being a middle child), and I want my children to be competitive and give their all when they are competing, but I truly believe you learn more about a person and their character when they lose than when they win. It's easy in life to be a good winner; it takes character to be a good loser.

The team up - "Here Mr. C. play that saw on this piece of Daddy's fence!"

While we were playing Pigpen a few days ago, it dawned on me as I pulled out a jackhammer card to destroy a portion of my son's pen and potentially set free his pig, I'm not at all worried about his overreacting to my playing this card. We're playing the game, and he completely understands that this is how the game works. Of course they turned into devious little scoundrels and teamed up on me that game, but they both got it. It was a game, and we're going to go back and forth destroying each others' pens, and no one needs to get upset, have a fit, or shed tears over it. When the game ends, we'll put it away and move on. I don't even remember who won that game (I'm pretty sure it wasn't me), but when it ended, we cleaned up the cards, gave each other high fives and said "Good game!" and headed off to bedtime. No sore losers, no snotty faced winners. I was a happy dad.

And that's what happened, at the game table.

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Do You Let Your Kids Win Games?

mojo the helper monkeyby Firestone This weekend Son The Elder and I were Home Alone. My wife and Son The Younger were in Arizona for the weekend, so we did Guy Stuff: ate at Smashburger, watched Star Wars Episode II (his idea—he hadn't seen it yet), worked in the garage... It's amazing how quickly the house starts to look junky without my wife's vital influence on keeping the slow tide of chaos at bay. I kept imagining that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets Mojo the helper monkey, and Marge walks in to find Mojo's been changed into a lazy, diaper-wearing sluggard. But I digress...

So we also broke out the DC Comics Deck-Building Game—[sarcasm]what a terrific name![/sarcasm] Despite the awful name, it's really lots of fun—expect a Double-Take Review shortly! It was his first deck-builder, so I was explaining the overarching idea behind those, and helping him by playing the hand open every turn and talking through things. Then on my turn I found myself making a few suboptimal moves—not all the time, but some of the time. If I knew he really wanted to get one of the cards in the display, for instance, I wouldn't buy it. Or I might forgo buying an extra, low-VP card if I had the chance. I was telling myself I was trying to make a better deck, but I think I was also trying to "short myself" a couple of VPs, hoping it would make the difference in him beating me.

Well, combine my play with him getting cards that allowed him to destroy some of the crappy starting cards, and he whooped me—well beyond the "padding" I'd given him. I was fine with that, because he's at an age where losing a game adversely affects his opinion of it. Will I play that way every time? No. But I wanted him to have fun, and winning helps him have fun.

So was I wrong to do that? I know there are people who are MERCILESS when they play their kids. I just kind of ramp up to the MERCILESS...

What about you? Crush them? Let them win? Somewhere in between? Chime in!