When we last left this tale of gamer-parenting, I was explaining how our gaming time had evaporated for my wife and I, and how I was beginning to explore solo gaming, and how my son was beginning to take notice of our games. Our collection is located in the office upstairs, stacked on IKEA shelves that reach up to the ceiling, and filled with hundreds of boxes. There is no door to this room. My son, now 3 years old, has long since perfected the art of climbing the stairs. He can (and does) sneak quietly into this room without notice, at any time. He knows this is where the good stuff is stored.
At the age of two, my son was becoming keenly aware that boardgaming is something Mom and Dad like to do, and he started expressing his own interest in it. This began by him grabbing a handful of cardboard coins from a bowl I left a bit too close to the edge of the table and shouting “MONEY!”. Then he would stack the money, or the dice, or the meeples. After that, I let him play with pieces however he liked (at least the ones that were durable and resilient) and he would hang out around the game table while adults played. I explained to him, in very basic terms, what the pieces meant, or were used for, and let him get familiar with them in a supervised fashion.
It was important to me that he be able to handle the game pieces and play with them. Thi was about building interest. Also important to me was that he play in such a way that I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting damaged or lost. I worked hard to instill in him a sense of respect for the components, and to make sure they all get put back after he’s done playing. There is no way (without playing in a locked room) to keep a child away from a board that’s set up, and have them move all the pieces around. That’s going to happen. But, if it’s not forbidden fruit, this may happen less often than you expect. I’ve had a wargame on my dining room table (which is mostly a game table) for the last week, with counters all over it… totally undisturbed. My son runs by it ten times a day.
The game shelves in our upstairs office are also fair game. I’ve made sure to keep the really expensive or fragile games out of reach, and the more colorful, kid friendly games down low where he can reach with little to no effort. He knows that the bright yellow HABA boxes are for him, has identified that those cylindrical Zombie Dice and Martian Dice containers are filled with fun stuff, and has figured out that the red Pitchcar boxes have awesome racetracks! The biggest hassle I’ve had is keeping the X-wing miniatures safe. He loved to play with those… and so far, so good. No damage. Only one Lambda class shuttle has gone missing, and I’m not convinced that wasn’t just because I hid it somewhere.
During this time, I tried introducing our son to game rules. Every child is different developmentally, but generally speaking 2 to 3 years of age is still a bit young for rules. Our son has pretty good language and communication skills, but still has very little appreciation for being told what he can or cannot do. Still, I wanted to try.
Games we have tried introducing to him are Evening In The Stable, Animal Upon Animal, Monkey Beach, and Go Away Monster! – all good options as starting games. Every few weeks we pull one of these out and see if he approaches them any different than he did last time. Mostly, he treats them the same way he treats the grown up games. They’re toys. Playing with rules? Rules are for suckers.
…but then, something changed. This past summer, maybe 3 or 4 months after his 3rd birthday – I brought First Orchard with us to my parents house. This is a game he’s seen many times before, but suddenly there was a new interest in it. In the evening, I dug it out and put it on the table without saying anything. He glanced at it and asked “Dad, how do you do this one?” I showed him how it’s played, and we played once or twice together, following the rules. That was impressive, but it wasn’t the most amazing part. The most amazing part was the next morning, when I caught him setting it up and playing it (with all the rules) by himself!
Games are starting to become more than just a toy. He’s beginning to appreciate that the rules are there to make the game fun. Now I see the spark in him… and I’m hopeful that over the next six months to a year, I’ll be able to fan it and build on that enjoyment of rules. I suspect that next September, when he attends school for the first time, and is suddenly surrounded by rules… his interest in boardgames may just blossom.
On the flip side, Mom and I have had increasingly less free time to game. The solo gaming is keeping me engaged with the the hobby, as well as learning about (and acquiring) new games, but there’s not a lot of multiplayer gaming happening. Over the next year, it’s my hope that I can carve out a day every week or two where I can go out and game with others. My wife, despite also being a gamer herself, is amenable to this, and I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable with it too. It’s important for parents to have some “me time”, and I think I (and my family) are ready for that to happen. Ultimate goal? I’d love to meet some nice folks who like similar games to me, and can maybe one day come over to the house and begin the foundation of a new gaming group. That’s the plan, anyways.
But how to do that? Well, I’m not really sure. Maybe that’s my homework, a good topic for next time. Until then… stay cozy!