So months ago lizcommotion wrote a really interesting post about bad childhood experiences of games. And it's a theme I've seen quite a lot, that the only reason adults would want to play competitive games with children is to bully them. Which is very different to my experience; adults played games with me mainly because they wanted to entertain me and spend time with me. And in fact I turned out to like gaming a lot better than most of my influential adults did, so I carried on playing games into adulthood. My parents play bridge and Scrabble voluntarily, for example, but generally otherwise see games as something they don't really have to do any more now their offspring are adults.
So when I play games with kids, particularly my partners' kids, I'm mainly trying to share an enthusiasm with them. I play games because I enjoy it and I hope they will too, but accounts like lizcommotion's make me worry that I'm creating experiences which will undermine their confidence and that they will grow up resenting me for making them play games and possibly with anxiety around competition. I mean, I don't think it's very likely that I'm inadvertently harming the children, because if I thought it was likely I wouldn't be doing it, but, well, I personally enjoy competition and I am aware there's a fine line between purely playful competition and actually overpowering people. Also my OSOs are pretty intensely a gaming family, and I generally trust the parents' judgement that their kids are actively enjoying the games we play and not being coerced into anything by domineering adults.
I wrote a long comment on lizcommotion's post, which I probably should have yoinked over here as a top level post because it's mostly about me. So I shall reproduce it here now, belatedly. My family growing up were pretty competitive, but we four siblings are close in age, so there was a reasonable chance that the younger kids would win at least some of time, and that we could find games that were enjoyable for all of us with only a five year age range between the oldest (me) and the youngest. The adults we played with, mostly parents and grandparents but some friends as well, never "let" us win just because we were children, but did offer a bit of advice on strategy when it seemed appropriate. I have a very vivid memory of the first time I beat my father at chess, when I was four and he was nearly forty, but I remember it because it was a meaningful victory, he didn't just throw the game as a concession to my young age, though he probably didn't play to his utmost ability either.
Now I'm in the position of an adult playing with young children, and I've tended to follow the role models I had growing up. I play competitively, but I select games where a bright three-year-old can grasp the rules and strategy of the game and have a reasonable chance of beating me. At least these days, maybe not so much when we were kids, there are options in between pure chance games like Candyland which are boring for over-fives, and games like Scrabble where adults just have infinite advantage over children. I set up adult-child, or older kid-younger kid, teams, or encourage older and more experienced players offering advice to younger players. Valid advice, and no cheating by taking advantage of finding out secret information in the course of giving the advice.
I don't encourage gloating or psychological gamesmanship / borderline cheating. Everybody celebrates the winner and everybody is kind to the losers. So I hope the kids will not pick up the idea that losing a game means terrible humiliation, and that they will be able to enjoy the competitive aspect of games, which for me is part of the fun, though I completely understand that the very fact of competition is horribly stressful for many people. And equally I am trying to learn from the children that playing just for the sake of playing can be a different kind of fun, things like tag and I Spy they prefer to play just for the joy of running around or pointing out things in the environment, and don't care at all about even temporarily winning.
Many of my friends are gamers too, which is not surprising since I hang out in geek circles mainly. And many of them are introducing their kids to their hobbies, and I really don't think they're being horrible in the ways portrayed in the linked post. I think part of not being awful is picking games carefully, ones that don't require unreasonable amounts of analysis or long-term strategy, and certainly not ones that depend on world knowledge. Trivial Pursuit is kind of a terrible game anyway but it's particularly terrible with mixed age players. And honestly there's such a wide range of games available these days, I feel there's a cornucopia of options of things that are simple enough for children and fun for habitual gamers. I don't really like the solution of pure chance games because although it means younger players win a proportionate amount of the time, they're just not fun.
Anyway, one thing that seems to be working quite well is playing games on smartphones or tablets. Not video games in the conventional sense, but traditional or Euro-style multiplayer games that happen to be instantiated on the phone. I'd really like some recommendations for more of those! One that we've been playing a lot is OLO (basically digital shove-ha'penny). What I want primarily is games that can be played on a single device, passed between players.
I'm also interested in asynchronous games, essentially play-by-mail but with the phone handling the tedious bit where you have to write your move down and put it in the post. The sort of model espoused by Draw Something, a very good implementation of digital Pictionary except that it got bought out by evil Zynga the day after I bought the app. And along the lines Yucata, but for phones rather than desktops. Yucata is a website, so it works approximately on modern smartphones, but it's fiddly on anything less than 10'' and all the development work is geared towards desktops. Those games are nice to play with adult friends because I can make one move a day or even slower than that, and it's a little bit of connection and a few minutes at worst of distraction. I can imagine in the not too distant future such games might be nice to play with the kids as well, just as a way of saying hi while I'm not around.
I'm specifically not looking for networked games, where you both have to be fully concentrating and reliably connected to the internet for the whole duration of the game. That's less interesting to me whether I'm in the same place as the people I'm playing with or whether it's a long-distance thing. There seem to be a lot more of those around, which is a bit surprising to me as I'd imagine it's more difficult to code a networked, synchronous game than a turn-based game. But for example, I really like the phone version of Ticket to Ride, except for the fact that if you want to play with humans you have to both be online at the same time and there's not even a way to save the game, you have to play through the whole game at once. If I have an hour free to spend time with a friend, I'd rather chat to them than play a phone game. Also, I want to be able to add friends by username much more than I want to play against strangers, but I really don't want to sign up to the horrible Google Play Games thing which will spam everybody I've ever contacted through Gmail every time I get a highscore in a silly casual game, and force me to join Google+ (I just can't wait until Google finally admit that horrible travesty is dead and stop trying to trick people into signing up).
I'm sure turn-based asynchronous games like this must be out there, but I'm having a hard time finding them as all my searches turn up everything that's vaguely in the genre of electronic versions of board games. So I'm hoping my human friends can do better than search engines. Even really traditional games like chess, go or backgammon would be lovely to have, as long as I can play with specific individuals not anybody who happens to be online, and I can make a move and have the phone transmit the changed state to my opponents, allowing them to respond in their own time. Any ideas?
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