Thursday, September 11, 2014

Child's Play

Is raising your kid as easy as playing Mario Bros.?  Or Contra?

I know there are days when it would be nice if a little Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right B, A, Select, Start action could summon 99 extra parents to assist me. On second thought, no, that sounds awful.  But it would be nice, wouldn't it, if parenting were as simple as repeatedly mashing the A button?
Yeah, don't mess with me.
Parenting, perfected

This guy at the Art of Manliness says it is.

Before you scoff, read the article.  He has a point and its a good one.  Also, what follows is perhaps just a bit of confirmation bias.

As he says, the real trick to parenting is getting kids to do what you want them to do and cut out the annoying stuff.  Face it: as much as you'd like to think you have some role to play in when they learn to spell, or talk or walk, those things are mostly as programmed as when they get teeth.  There just isn't a lot you can do about it.

So what do you do in the face of 25 relatives giving you advice from 1,000s of websites?

Let's load up Mario and find out.

In Mario, there are set rules.  Bump a bad guy and its back to start.  Push A and you jump on top the bad guy, sending him... well, where he goes.  Input-Output.  The same every time.  In fact, a game that changed the rules midgame, or varied them in game, would be incredibly frustrating.  Imagine if jumping on Koopas suddenly resulted in death for no discernible reason or that jumping altogether now resulted in a restart.  Frustrating, right?

Its no different with kids.  They like consistency.  Love it, in fact.  Input-output.  The same every time.  If they find that shouting gets them isolated in a timeout and that Mommy and Daddy ignore them, they will eventually learn to stop running headlong into Koopas and jump on the darn things instead.  But if they only have to restart every 5th time the shouting gets out of hand, well, its hard to play Mario if sometimes the Koopas send you back to start and sometimes you just pass right through them.

No one likes long cutscenes.  Video game developers love to put cutscenes into games.  Long narrative pieces that fill in the gaps and give players an insight to motivations and what is going on.  You know what players routinely complain about?  Cutscenes.  You know what players regularly skip when given the option: Cutscenes.

So why do we keep introducing long cutscenes into our kids' "game?"  No one, games have shown us, like long narrative discussions about what we were doing wrong or where we go from here or how we got to this place in time.  We want to get back to playing.  So skip the soliloquy and keep it short.  Kids need to know they did something wrong, what it was, and that it is game over as a result.  The cutscene isn't helping either you or them.

Good game play.  Of course, skipping the cutscene is of no use if the game sucks.  Who wants to hurry up and be bored.  That is why its so important that you spend your time creating a fun atmosphere around your kids.  That way they have something they want to skip the cutscene for.  Eventually they'll learn that running headlong into Momma or Poppa Koopa results in a restart cutscene and, um, well, hopefully they won't start jumping on your head, so maybe that wasn't the best analogy this time around.  But you get the point.

You can always load a past save and start again.  Parenting isn't one day or one event, its an ongoing series of them.  Maybe you didn't have a great day yesterday.  The article this article is based on recommends doling out punishment with the same even tone you would say anything else.  I fail big time on that one at different points.  Just as in video games, you are going to have that one difficult issue - a boss battle, we can call it - that is going to give you fits.  But just like a video game, you can reload the next day and play that one over again until you get it right.  At the end of the game, you recall the joy of playing it, you don't recall that boss that beat you 50 times, and when you do, you are fondly recalling to your friends how long it took you to figure him out.

So get to mashing those buttons.

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