Gaming with Kids
Won’t someone please think of the children?!
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I met Eddy years ago at a small local gaming convention called MiniCon. As it happens, I run MiniCon out of my house. Pre-COVID, it was a gathering of about 40 people playing games from 9am to 3am(ish) for 4 days. Eddy and Chelsea didn’t attend this year because they think true love is more important than games (spoiler alert: that true love won’t help you when you’re being an asshole while playing Bohnanza with your wife), but we hope to see them again in 2022.
When we started MiniCon about 12 years ago, we had only three rules:
1. No douchebags
2. Don’t bring anyone who will steal from us
3. No douchebags
Rule 1 and 3 have been broken a few times, but to my knowledge, we’ve never had a problem with rule 2. However, two years in, we added a new rule:
4. No children under the age of 14
But my kid’s a gamer! No really! A true gamer!
We implemented rule 4 because we learned—quickly—that gaming with kids changes the dynamic of the game.
You see, we had one family who brought their young child because he was, “very good at games.”
And you know what? He was. Kid could play damned near anything. He was quick to learn and could be a real competitor in games you’d never imagine a kid playing.
And that was the problem. Because you know why you don’t imagine kids playing those games? Because they’re not made for kids. And that ruins the fun of everyone else at the table. You see, you don’t compete against an 8-year-old the same way you compete against your peers. If you’re an adult in a position to screw over the only kid at the table? Well that is a no-win proposition for you. Either you wreck him and he loses and everyone thinks you’re a jerk, or you go easy on him and he wins, but everyone knows the victory was hollow and the game wasn’t worth playing in the first place.
That was additionally complicated by the fact that we had people who took time off work to come to MiniCon, and really wanted to play games… not hold back because they didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Moreover, some of those people didn’t have kids because they don’t really enjoy being around kids, and I even sent MY OWN kids away for the weekend.
But as much as that situation was annoying, it taught me something. I now know better than to be a game gatekeeper for my kids.
My kid is awesome at Trading in the Mediterranean
If you’re a boardgamer, you’ve spent time on BoardGameGeek (BGG). And if you’ve spent time on BGG you’ve seen them, the parents who brag about the crazy advanced games their kids are playing. “Well, my 5-year-old son plays Puerto Rico with me and he loves it.”
Let me tell you something… the kid doesn’t love Puerto Rico. Hell, adults barely love Puerto Rico. You know what your 5-year-old loves? He loves being with YOU. And you’ve made playing Puerto Rico the cost of being with you. You’re gatekeeping. And the fact that you’re posting about it on BGG makes that incredibly clear.
But why should we care what people do? Why worry about the fact that someone is gatekeeping games for their kid and posting about it on BGG? That’s their problem, right?
But then maybe not. My sons are 13 and 8, and I’m constantly questioning my parenting ability. I’ve been doing it for 13 years now… probably almost every day. I don’t use Facebook much anymore, but I know very well the cost of looking too much at cultivated content put out by your peers about their families. And while it’s particularly insidious on Facebook, I would argue it’s still pretty bad on a social site like BGG too.
Your kid plays Twilight Imperium with you, but mine is still really excited to play Rat-a-Tat Cat. What the hell am I doing wrong?
It takes a whole lot of years and a whole lot of experience to realize the answer is nothing. Nothing at all.
It all comes full circle
You see, my oldest, as I mentioned, is 13 now. We play some awesome games. He’s a monster when he gets a plan together in Nemesis. And the other day he destroyed me in Cryptid… like destroyed me meaning he beat me before I even really understood the game, and then proceeded to do it again.
You know what he loved to play most until about two years ago?
The Dog Game.
Oh, you don’t know The Dog Game? Of course you don’t. Because we got it at a thrift store. It’s the game you’d make if you said, “Hey, let’s make a game like Apples to Apples, but with less structure and about dogs. Oh, and we should throw in memes so most of it doesn’t make sense by the time some schmuck picks it up in Goodwill and his kid gets addicted to it.”
It’s insipid. It’s boring. And he loved it. And we played it.
Over and over and over.
But he had FUN when we played. We spent time together, which is exactly what he wanted, and we did it with something appropriate for his age. It meant I had to play a game I can’t stand, and you know what? That’s part of being a parent.
But more importantly, it meant I had to accept that I wouldn’t be able to use this time to show my peers how amazing my child is. Nobody’s going to be impressed that my 8-year-old is playing The Dog Game. I can’t demonstrate that I’m an amazing parent or that my kid is gifted. But you know what? That doesn’t matter, because I’m teaching my kid to love games. When all those kids who “love Caylus” grow up and think games suck, my kid will still want to play games with me, and he’ll want to play the ones I’ve been dying to play because he’ll be ALL GROWN UP.
Just the other day my 8 year old asked to play The Dog Game and I think you can guess what I said.
…well, actually you probably can’t. I said no. I hate that game and it’s only here by virtue of the fact that I’ve forgotten to take it back to Goodwill. But then I said, “Let’s play something else. What other game would you like to play.” And he picked out three games he was excited about and we played them.
In fact, the second child is different. Sometimes he does play more advanced games. He played Apocalypse Road with us the other day. But he did that because we were already playing (Me, Mom, and his older brother) and he ASKED to join us. So we taught him the rules and helped him through. He had a great time.
So how do I know that’s not what’s happening on BGG with those other people? I don’t, I guess. But I think I can safely guess that you don’t go bragging about what an advanced gamer your kid is when it’s an intermittent thing that you do on THEIR schedule.
But you’re not a boardgamer (and you probably haven’t read this far)
So what’s the moral of the story? I think the moral is that people do this in more than boardgaming. Honestly, you can be this kind of parent in hockey, chess club, gymnastics… you can even do it just telling the world about your kid’s gifted program. Why does it matter? Well, It matters because you only have so much time with your kids and you don’t want to waste it.
I’ve got four and a half years left until my oldest goes off to college and everything changes. If you’re like Eddy and your oldest is really little still, that seems like a long time away, but it’s not. Sure, people tell you that, and you think you understand, but you don’t, and you won’t until you’re there… trust me.
Make this time about your kids. If you get them involved in something, do it for them, not for you. They’re going to grow up and make you proud either way. But if they can make you proud AND still be wanting to play games with you, you’ll have really won.