Gaming with Kids is an interview series where I talk with folks about gaming with their children. This second installment is an interview with Amanda and Clark Valentine.
When did you start playing games with your kids?
To a great extent, answering this question relies on a definition of “game.” We’ve been interacting with the kids in game-like ways since they were capable of interacting with us—lots of peek-a-boo, seeing if they could find shapes in the world around us, etc. We played typical kid games when they were toddlers, such as Candyland—which Amanda has to admit she hates—and Kids of Catan—a beautiful alternative for learning about how to take turns, roll dice, and other basics of gameplay. Their first hobby game was Faery’s Tale, probably around ages 6 and 8. Now 9 and 11 years old, they’re starting on D&D and they’re able to play lots of more complicated board and card games that we enjoy, too.
What do you enjoy about playing games with your children?
It’s time we get to spend with the kids that isn’t us nagging them to do stuff. Although it isn’t always stress-free time, it’s definitely time that’s dedicated to doing something specific together, which is nice.
Especially when they were younger, the kids challenged Clark’s preconceived notions about the roles of GM and players—and this is coming from an already not-quite-traditional GM. He realized that the strict separation of player & GM is largely a construct that’s learned—our daughter in particular didn’t naturally follow that. For her, roleplaying games are “playing pretend with some rules”—and when you play pretend, everyone contributes to the story. She didn’t hesitate to create the challenges her character would need to overcome—“How about if the mouse princess was kidnapped by the goblins!” She hadn’t been trained to give that job to the GM.
We’re raising our own built-in game group! We get to share the aspects of game play that we most appreciate. Being the kids of professionals in the game industry, they have a sense of how games are made; they’re constantly creating and adapting their own games. At the moment, they’re hard at work on a LEGO based forest fire game—it seems like a mashup of Heroica and Forbidden Island.
Amanda doesn’t always join in the games—sometimes the lure of a few minutes to herself is too much. But even if she isn’t playing, she likes hearing her family having fun. The sound of laughter is wonderful. It’s also fun seeing the kids learning—a good game gets their minds going in creative ways.
What games are current household favorites?
Munchkin—our son in particular thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever seen; Ligretto Dice—a fast paced dice game that’s beautiful in its simplicity; LEGO Heroica—we’re continuing to adapt and hack this game, and it’s fun that the kids join in that process; Carcassonne—this game has several very kid-friendly hacks, such as removing the farmers or playing it cooperatively to see how big you can make a city or how high you can get the score; D&D—they’ve played a couple short campaigns now, and a few of their classmates also play, so we’re hoping to get a middle school gaming group started at some point; Harry Potter Clue—this is one of the few licensed board games that is truly strengthened and improved by its license; Zelda and Mario games (Wii)—whether playing together or sharing experiences and universes, these games provide a lot of family fun; Professor Layton (DS)—although this is an individual game, solving the tougher puzzles often ends up being a family activity; chess—both with the nice wooden chess set and the iPad War Chess app, this game has captured our kids’ attention; Ascension—this is a deck building game that all of us can play, which is nice since only our son is really interested in collectible card games; Pokemon On a Roll—it’s like simplified Yahtzee but with Pokemon! The boy thinks it’s awesome; Rory’s Story Cubes—the kids can spend an amazing amount of time playing with these and giggling hysterically; Eleminis—a fast paced card game that has been particularly good at teaching game-decisions made on short-term strategy rather than always dumping on your sibling; Forbidden Island—the cooperative nature of this game makes it a particularly good family game, since you have to help each other or you’ll all fail.
Are there any games you wouldn’t let your children play, or don’t currently let them play?
We just can’t do first person shooter video games. Pretty much anything else we don’t play is a “Not yet” and/or a matter of where their interests lie. Horror isn’t a big theme in our house at this point, but that’s not so much a conscious choice to exclude it as just choosing other things instead.
How do you keep games fun for you and your kids?
One of the big things that has made family game time a lot more fun is introducing the kids to games we already love and want to play. Many parents (Amanda included) dread playing the luck driven and seemingly endless pre-school games, so it was a relief when the kids could start to handle games we wanted to play anyway. We also aren’t afraid to hack games to make them work better for our family—for instance, many games can easily be adapted to be more cooperative or to minimize player elimination.
We try to take a lot of our cues from them about what they like and what their interests are. During play, we also try to keep an eye on building tension and waning attention spans—diffusing tension or cutting the game short as necessary. In addition, we’re consciously and explicitly teach gaming etiquette, such as how to properly roll dice, how to deal and hold cards, winning and losing gracefully, taking a break when needed, and strategy vs. vendetta—which is particularly interesting when siblings play against each other! Sometimes you really should chose to work against Daddy instead of helping him, and consistently going after your sibling isn’t always the best strategy.