Sunday, October 15, 2006

The hard line on games

This post was provoked by an article in the New York Times that near as I can tell has no point (click here). It is about one parent's experience with Hungry Hungry Hippos for their 3 year old which, suffice it to say, did not go at all well. In my mind, he was lax on game play.

My attitude to playing games with children is simple: I play to win. Put simply, I see no need to coddle my children in game playing. If they want that they can go elsewhere; say, to their mother. Now I have posted before on how my children play games with eachother (click here). It is very personality driven. But how they play with me is another matter.

At the age of 3, children form the cognitive ability to play games. They understand the rules and seem to understand the difference between winning and losing. The first game off the rank for us was 'snap.' Nominally, a card game, you pick up cards and put them down until two match and then you compete by quickly saying snap and snapping your hand down to claim the lot. The game continues until one player holds all of the cards.

My daughter (you might remember her as Ms Strategic in chess) learnt this game from her mother. It was a rather relaxed affair. Then she turned her attention to me. I snapped the snappiest snap one could imagine. The game was over pretty quickly and she didn't get a look in. She, not surprisingly, claimed it was all unfair and she need her turn. I took a hard line. The snap playing ended for the day.

The next day, it might surprise you, she was back to try again. This time the result was the same but the back of my hand was sore. She had quickened up and while she didn't end up snapping the cards she was just shy and snapped my hand on those cards.

A little while later, we got to Round 3. She worked out that information was key. Ms Strategic then was born and she developed a new action. She would look at her own card first before putting it down. The result was that on half of the occasions a match might come by she knew it first. She would look at the card, then move her hand down to the pile. Turn it over and snap instantly.

This strategy had me beat; at least until I worked at the 'attell.' When she had a match her action would be much slower than otherwise and so I became a little quicker. But it wasn't enough. Ms Strategic had learned to cheat. She had changed the rules of the game to suit her competitive situation. I was very proud.

We put a clamp on that rule change after that but let me tell you we have games of snap far more interesting than other parents have to endure. Moreover, my daughter ruthlessly defeated all other children including older ones.

Now you might be reading this horrified that I have created a competitive monster. But let me tell you, when I hear other parents complain about how boring or frustrating it is to play games with their children; that is the alternative life. I would rather have the competition. More game playing occurs as a result.

Of course, when it comes to some games -- specifically, the junior variety such as Junior Monopoly -- the sheer random element combined with the length of time for a game makes me want to behave quite differently. However, that is a problem with junior games per se. More on that some other time.