Everyday new children are born, or as we like to think of them, future gamers. However, they’re not going to enter the world rolling dice. With any hobby that we enjoy, there’s an art to introducing the younger generation to it. There’s no better recipe to make your kids hate games than to push them into playing. Getting them to enjoy your hobby as much as you do takes time, listening, and above all, patience. Just by their very nature, kids will want to take part in the things you love, so make the hobby as welcoming to them as possible, and you’ll find you have a gaming partner for life.
For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we talked to some experts in the field of gaming with children and got some great ideas on how to turn your mini-me into a lover of games.
Stephen Sauer is a game designer and father of two young kids. As a family, they do almost everything together. But like a lot of things, getting his kids into gaming was a process.
“We started playing card based games with them around three years old. Their hands were so small we had to get special paddles shaped like table tennis rackets to hold and fan out a handful of cards,” said Sauer.
“The biggest challenge, and one that we still face, is losing. We’ve cut back on direct conflict games where single players can be targeted or attacked, and have recently introduced them to deeper co-operative games.”
Kids often have a tough time dealing with the concept of losing, and although it’s a great lesson for them to learn for later in life, each individual loss sticks with them a lot more at that younger age.
Sauer has been able to apply his role as a father to his designs. He explains, “Being a parent has definitely helped shape my game designs. I’m much more focused on keeping players engaged during downtime, stripping down and simplifying my mechanics.”
He wants to create games that can be enjoyed by adults and by kids.
“After I play test a game design, I’ll ask myself: If my kids were to play this, would they ask to play it again right away? If the answer is no, then I need to make some serious changes.”
Sauer has excellent advice for introducing young players to games. “My biggest tip to help introduce kids to gaming is to challenge them. Kids have incredible minds and can learn surprisingly complex mechanics. Start with short play time games, so you can play them repeatedly. This helps them move past the surface of the game, allowing them to explore different strategies to win.”
Helaina Cappel is a bit of an expert when it comes to playing board games with young folk. She’s a school teacher who incorporates games into her lessons as much as possible, and she has two young children of her own. Cappel also designs board games and runs her own publishing company: Kids Table Board Gaming. When Cappel’s son turned just 3 years old, she could already see his readiness to learn to play games.
“I really disliked playing all of the games that, at that point, were available to us with our young children. Not only are they limited in the way kids interacted with them, they are so boring for me,” remembers Cappel. “I never expected to be completely engaged playing with a 3-year-old, but I did want to enjoy the experience.”
Seeing some of the flaws in the existing games on the market, Cappel began to tweak the rules a bit to make the experience more fun.
She explains, “My biggest breakthrough was when I began to create house rules for our kids games. I did this to create a more engaging experience for them and for myself.”
It was that exploration with the rules that led her to her first game design: Foodfighters.
“When we designed Foodfighters, I realized that we had created a game that did something different. It naturally teaches kids how to use tactics WHILE they are playing,” said Cappel. “The best part is that adults love to play it! So began the Kids Table Board Gaming journey into publishing. We make games that everyone loves to play and that yield emergent strategy.”
Being both a designer and a parent makes Cappel especially adept at coming up with rule sets that challenge and entertain kids and adults alike. Her goal is to create games that bridge the generational gap.
“I essentially design games for my kids. To me, watching them make important decisions by analyzing is so amazing. My kids are our first playtesters. If the game doesn’t meet their standards, we will do something about it.”
Cappel has some excellent advice for parents looking to ease their kids into gaming.
“For first time kid-gamers, I would always choose a game with your child. Go to the store and find something that piques their interest. They might be interested in the theme, they might want a building game, they might even just want to knock stuff down. Let them choose,” she recommends. “The game should have very few mechanisms and rules. Overcomplicating their first experiences could turn them off of games completely. Once they have played a game a few times, and can accept that they might lose, I would introduce them to something a little more complicated. The goal is really just to have fun.”
We often think of board gaming as a family affair, but it doesn’t start off that way. We have to help ease kids into the experience. Listen to your children and respond to them by finding the types of games they want to try. Playing games together is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a family, and your kid’s introduction to the hobby will go a long way towards ensuring they keep coming back to the table.