Lessons learned from children

There’s a lot that grown-ups can learn from kids.

Yes, we have bills to pay and jobs to go to (or, even more stressful for many more these days, not), and weighing the pros and cons of getting that root canal… there’s no end of big person responsibilities and issues on our minds.

But too many of us forget how and when we should be able to have fun, and in particular, do so with total, child-like freedom.

As I wrote yesterday, my daughter is in a (very safety/health-conscious) summer day camp at a local game cafe. We’ve played tabletop games for years–this isolation time has certainly been no exception–and while the camp does the standard outings to parks, etc., this particular venue also gives her the opportunity to try playing new games.

Which, even after just day one, resulted in her coming home from camp and immediately getting to work on a new game she wanted to make. She got out a sheet of thick cardboard and started sketching out the sizing for it.

I pointed out, in trying to be helpful and practical, that such things are normally planned out ahead of time. Meaning, as with comic book page layouts (which she’s approached the same way), plan what you want to say or do and then make the layout suit that, rather than creating the layout first and then making the content fit into it.

Confident in her plan/all too ready to ignore the wisdom I was laying on her, she started cutting up the cardboard. And then, with all sections ready shortly after, she laid out the spaces and started squeezing paints into a palette to colour it in.

I reminded her again that before she color-codes anything in, she should have a plan for what the spaces will all entail. She informed me she’d already done that in pencil, which she could still see pretty well through the paint.

Then she made short work of coming up with cards and pawns.

The result was, some few hours later and with her mom’s hot glue gun help (while I was reading a communal book aloud) our kid had a pieced together a fully realized game.

Make no mistake, it was rough and very hand-made-looking. But it was done and totally clear in what it was.

We let her know how genuinely good it looked and how cool an approach the layout was (which I won’t relay here in case she actually wants to turn it into a game product at some point, but suffice to say I haven’t seen anything like it before and there’s no reason it couldn’t work in a published game).

The point is, she had gotten started in the late afternoon and before bedtime she had finished creating a unique game from scratch. And while wholesale ignoring my suggestions to do some play-testing–‘You need to make sure it works like you want it to’, ‘That’s how you find problems with it’, etc.–she was rightfully beaming with pride at what it had become and was really looking forward to taking it to the camp today to show it to others.

And I realized that I not only needed to shut up with trying to teach her logical ways to approach making a game, but in fact I should be watching her and learning something myself.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got plenty of game ideas in mind, but I mull them over and work on some outlines for the overall concept to see if it could maybe be a thing, then start making notes on details and themes and game play and try to shape those into something that could work, usually all before bouncing them off people to see if the idea has some appeal outside my own head, and then… and then… and then…

Which isn’t to say I’m doing it wrong. Successful games need to be thought about and hashed through, with various potential angles on game play considered and play-tested and weighed and tried out again and again. It’s necessary.

But that part is the middle, trial and error and tweaking part of it. It isn’t the initial real fun of coming up with an idea and getting excited about it and (I imagine) the joy of seeing it realized as a tangible item in front of you.

Being a kid, my daughter simply cut out the less appealing parts and just went right from the fun part of having a cool idea to the fun of making it exist.

And seeing her do that reminded me of a key element to making games, and something that seems to get overlooked too easily in my process of getting an idea to a final, viable version of a game I could maybe pitch: I’m developing game ideas because games are supposed to be fun. To play, yes, but also to make.

If we’re open to learning from children, they can teach us a lot, including that whether it’s making games or approaching life in general, grown-ups should have more fun.