So I’m sitting on the boat for the Microsoft Academic Days cruise (which I will be blogging about in a little bit), and I’m staring at the Ocean (with a capital ‘O’ because it is just that BIG), when I start to think about my transition into being a ‘dada.’ And, of course, as any ‘dada’ will tell you, it is a transition. Now there are certainly some aspects to fatherhood that are transcendent, and what I mean by that is that they are not rooted in the core of the everyday world but rather in some kind of spiritual space, whatever it might be. Love for your child would be an example: you don’t love your child because its cute or because of what they do, but because it is your child. The everyday world is not involved.
But there are a series of “everyday-isms,” real-world events and tasks, that any parent can easily identify with that sort of ground parenthood in a common core. Taking a toddler to the mall. Getting them ready for a long car trip. Picking up the toys at the end of the day, and figuring out if any are missing. Making sure that a blanket is always available and that it is THE blanket, the one that is the center of the entire cosmic universe, rather than just some random piece of cloth. Every day, day in, and day out these tasks ebb and flow as needed to construct the tapestry and semblance of life, if not its substance. Most people I know get totally overwhelmed by this, on a regular basis. Well… me too. But I can actually take a lot of pride in a well-orchestrated trip to the mall, or when I have that special item that I just knew my toddler would want hours in advance of her wanting it. So I’m sitting on the boat and I’m thinking these thoughts, when it hits me: my preparation for this, the way I approach the organizational tasks, how I measure success in my real-world day - it all came… …from RPGs!
Consider the following: You are awakened to the sound of a screaming child through the sound of a small speaker near your bed. “DADA!” she bellows. “PLAY CHOO CHOO!” Right away, you have a choice. Do you stay in bed, knowing that with each passing moment the frustration will build into a catastrophic meltdown of tears and screams? I didn’t think so! Out to face the world!
So it’s breakfast time, and then it’s off to the great outdoors. You must pack a toddler bag (in game terms a SACK) with a series of pre-selected items of various use (in game terms an INVENTORY) such as a spoon, fork, collection of toys, bottles, cheerios, etc. You must take special care to include items that help shield you from the worst of the toddler fits (in game terms a SHIELD) such as a BLANKET. You must also plan the day - where are you going to go? What are you going to see? The worst possible thing you can do is stay in any confined area for longer than it holds interest… What you need is a QUEST. Sometimes quests are single-item oriented (ie “Go get a new light bulb for the front porch”) and sometimes they are multi-faceted (“go to the grocery store and secure everything you need for the week”) and occasionally they are epic (“get the toddler on a plane, and fly to the grandparents house for a vacation”).
At every stage, having the right item at the right time is key. Often times, making sure that the sequencing of events is in a proper order is of absolute necessity. My little girl for example, must go out to breakfast and then to Target. NOT the other way around, thank you very much.
How do I learn this? By trial and error, but also by little clues that she will drop, random words and phrases at different times that, after a while, begin to make some sense. I figure out how to deal with all the events, how to plan for several contingencies, and how to placate the random attacks of the toddler fit. Replace ‘toddler fit’ with ‘attack of the townspeople’ and this sounds eerily familiar to a game player, doesn’t it?
Now I’m not going to stand here and say that everyone who plays RPG’s should have eight children. But the connection is obvious - the planning, item management, and exploratory focus are totally congruent with the core of RPG design. At a superficial day-to-day level the process of managing life with a young child can be viewed as a game, a steady process of learning the ins and outs of the event/response pattern of the world around you.
And it can be just as rewarding. When she was screaming in the mall and I whip out the Magic Vessel of Cheerios +5 and hand it her, I have this weird tingle of happiness that I was able to anticipate her desires and have come well prepared to the situation. Not unlike the ending of an RPG in which you have all the items, spells, and armor to defeat evil and save the world. We place intrinsic value on the first, call it ‘good parenting’, while the latter is merely ‘wasting time.’ But what if the way we waste our time was helping us do the important stuff better?
Perhaps one day, we will study in earnest how and when games shape our consciousness, whether they do in fact impact the way we approach the real world, and how we can best benefit from their use.
I’m off to change the dragon’s diapers.