Games for Little Ones

The other day, Evelyn and I were in BJ’s in Tilton buying large quantities of gum and soap when I spotted a display of games for the Wii. I’ve been wanting to check to see if there’s a boxing game with more realistic physics than the game that comes with Wii Sports so I checked out BJ’s display. Although they didn’t have a boxing game, they did have all kinds of other games packaged in pairs and selling for the price that one game normally sells for. The one that caught my attention was Winter Sports, with 15 different sports (although the various types of skiing really should count as one sport). It was packaged with a game called Action Girlz (yes, with a z–that’s how I know it’s a cool game) Racing. Although I was annoyed at the obvious marketing ploy (and stereotyping) of a game for boys (the Winter Sports package is blue) packaged with a game for girls (you guessed it–Action Girlz Racing comes in pink), I decided to buy the games.

In the checkout line, we listened to our cashier tell a long meandering story that had something to do with a gay rooster to the people in front of us. When the story finally ended, she gave them their receipt (which you need in order to be let out of the place and which the cashier was holding hostage to make them listen to her story) and turned her attention to us. She commented on each item as she scanned it. When she got to the games, she hesitated, took a second look at us and said, “Someone must have a little one at home. Either that or a grandchild.”

A part of me wanted to say, “I’m not old enough to have a grandchild.” Except that I am–my grandmother was a year younger than I am when I was born. But the bigger part of me wanted to say, “Why do you assume that games are for kids?” Raph Koster (in his amazing book A Theory of Fun for Game Design) says, “I also find it curious that as parents, we’ll insist that kids be given the time to play because it’s important to childhood, but that work is deemed far more important later in life. I think work and play aren’t all that different, to be honest.” The rest of the book is an argument about Koster’s belief that when we play, we practice skills that are important to success in life. We socialize with friends. We laugh. We persist in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. We try out a variety of solutions. We expand our understanding of the way our world works. We keep our minds active and engaged and questioning.

I believe, as Koster does, that play is practice for life. When we play, we learn. And the recent popularity of games gives me hope that more and more people will understand that play is appropriate and important for all of us, regardless of age. So maybe one day that BJ’s clerk will understand that I do have a “little one” at home but the “little one” is me.

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