Games Parents Play

What if someone said to you there’s a way to make the hard stuff in life fun? Wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity to find out more? Well… Read on!

So far, throughout this space, we have witnessed how a wide variety of knowledge, skills and abilities manifest themselves in Motherhood. Some of those capabilities may have resonated to you more than others, depending on your personality, background and Parenting style. But, no matter where you stand, I think that we have managed to establish some common ground on one thing: raising children is tough cookies. It takes a lot of hard work, undoubted commitment and undisturbed presence to see it through.

Some days may prove harder than others. Some nights may get longer too! But, however way you look at it, at the end of each passing day you are left with no less than a feeling of proximity to a higher purpose. The kid(s) is (are) growing, the family bonds are further developing, you are progressing as a soul. The workload may be quite on the serious side, no doubt about that. But what about the process? Does a heavy schedule automatically translate to a sullen daily routine?

It’s true that you could easily be sucked up into the grey zone of waking up with just enough energy to make it through yet another day-in and day-out. Juggling family, work and social commitments while securing some self-care time are no laughing matter. But, as a Dad recently said to me: “Kids are hard work but they are epic! It’s literally effortless to have fun with them, because they can transform practically anything into a Game!”

Photo: Pixabay (Pexels)

Transforming stuff into games is the basic principle behind a popular business concept called Gamification. We call it such, because the concept stems from the gaming industry. “Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities” says Yu-kai Chu, one of the best-known field experts in Gamification and Behavioral Design out there. Such engaging elements may be simplistic like a Leaderboard or a Badge, or more complex like an immersive Narrative or a sense of Meaning.

“In the video game industry” says Yu-kai, “especially in games categorized as Role Playing Games (RPGs), you get to take on the role of a protagonist (the Hero) on an epic quest (usually to save the world). At the beginning of your journey, you are weak (low level), have few abilities, have access to few locations on the map, and little to no items, but as you slay monsters, discover items, and level up in abilities, your character becomes stronger and thus progresses through the game.” But what if life itself could be likened to a Game?

Yu-kai took this creative analogy to heart. “Instead of slaying monsters, he started his own business. Instead of searching for treasure chests, he networked with top talents and investors. Instead of gaining and assigning ability points, he read books and found mentors to enhance his professional skills.” Subsequently, he went on to publish a book, build a Gamification Framework, and design a Strategy Guide to “beat the game of life” as he calls it. And the more I look at his strategy, the more I become convinced how this could be yet another tool in our parenting armory, so well hidden that we don’t even realize we have it!

Photo: Yu-kai Chu’s Strategy Guide to “Beat the Game of Life” (Yu-kai Chu)

The picture above shows Yu-Kai’s 6-step strategy. Having spent almost a decade (ok, maybe a bit more!) playing a popular MMORPG called World of Warcraft, I almost feel nostalgic looking at such a framework: I should have been able to build one out myself! On second thought, maybe I have already mastered it, but didn’t know it was a thing that had a name! Bottom line is, it’s fun, easy and (most of all) it works.

Let’s see how it plays out based on a practical parenting example based on baby motor skills development.

  1. Choose your Game: Let’s say the “game” is about empowering the baby’s fine motor skills! Baby can hold large objects with both hands, and you wanna reach that point where he or she is able to hold two objects simultaneously, one on each hand, and bang them together!
  2. Know your Talents: You have been watching your baby interact with various toys, both large and small, and you come to notice how baby is fascinated by round objects. Baby has a talent for interacting with spheres!
  3. Select your Role: Baby will be presented with round objects of varied sizes, materials and colors, and will be provided with uninterrupted time to freely interact with them. The Baby’s role is to find different ways to interact with the various balls, until he or she understands underlying pattens and develops the fine motor skill at hand.
  4. Enhance your Skill Sets: Baby is repetitively shown by a Parent how one can hold two small balls together, one at each hand. Then, is provided with guided time to interact with the toys.
  5. Build your Alliance: Both Parents and other Caregivers who get to interact with Baby during this time are in-line with what needs to happen in terms of developing this skill. They are instructed to facilitate the process while interacting with Baby, by demonstrating how each hand can hold a different ball, and by clapping and cheering every time time Baby achieves the task.
  6. Take on Quests: When Baby has started to grab and hold a ball using only one hand, you show them a second ball. At first, baby will drop the first ball and grab the new one using the same hand. After Baby has mastered that first small quest, you show how it is possible to keep holding the ball with one hand, while grabbing the other ball with the free hand. Once Baby has achieved holding two small balls one on each hand, you start presenting increasingly bigger round objects. Little by little, as Baby conquers his wondrous list of achievements, he or she develops the fine motor skill of being able to hold two balls one in each hand. You can go on and present different types of objects now, regardless of size and shape.

Voilà! A step-by-step way for Baby fine motor skills development for you, based entirely on the principles of Gamification. But, wait. Let’s take a look again at those steps, shall we? How sure are we you aren’t doing that already?

Because, I bet my hat, Momma, that you are already gamifying your kids’ development! relying on whatever gets to motivate their behavior. You just haven’t come to realize that you do. Anytime you feel like teaching your kid a new competence, you go ahead and introduce a new game.

  • Trying to get your toddler to ditch the diaper? You play a “who is gonna run to the loo first” game to remind them to go pee. That’s an appeal to their sense of Accomplishment!
  • Bought a new book that has short stories of little kids and how they experience different feelings? That’s working on their intrinsic Meaning.
  • Cheering every time the baby responds to the command of catching the red ball? That’s Empowerment.

There’s a whole framework with numerous examples on which gamification element responds to which intrinsic or extrinsic motivator here. Take a look. I’m sure you will see for yourself that you are familiar with most of them (and some extra ideas too!)

As for you, my dear Recruiter or Hiring Manager, looking to fill a role in UX or Behavioral Design, perhaps some of the talents that make a good UI Designer are hidden somewhere in that Mom’s experience with games for parenting purposes. Even if you don’t expect to find the absolute Design-guru in the Mom next door (unless stated otherwise in her CV), she has the foundation upon which you can build her gamification competences. All you have to do, is to go looking. Gems are oftentimes hidden in plain sight; don’t miss out on an opportunity to diversify the workforce bringing on someone with tacit gamification experience!

Gamifying Life & Work? You got this!

Featured Photo: Pixabay (Pexels)

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