Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Makes a Game "For Children"?

What combination of characteristics defines something as either childish or for adults? Simplicity? Theme? Duration? Limited choices? Limited depth?

All of these, of course. But really; is this the list of characteristics of "children's board games" or "mainstream board games"?

If the mainstream press tells you that you should take a break from television and computer games in order to spend some quality time with your friends or family playing board games, what games do you suppose that they recommend? I'll give you a hint: it's not Civilization.

Honest to goodness, they recommend playing Candy Land and Sorry. Why? Because they are simple, have an unchallenging theme, don't take too long, present limited choices, and don't require too much thinking. So someone, either the mainstream press, or the game manufacturers, think that you're all children.

The only exceptions I've seen are in the theme department: party games, such as Taboo, Dirty Minds, etc. Not for children, no. For snickering young teenagers, perhaps.

There really is a spectrum of ambition among both children and adults. On one end of the spectrum is the child who takes an interest in something and wants to learn it. Self motivated. This type of child can play civilization building computer games, learns how to program both a web site and a VCR, and can probably beat you at chess. On the other end of the spectrum is the child who in uninspired, unmotivated, doesn't want to think, and doesn't get it. May have a wonderful personality or be the class clown. Either this child is slightly less intelligent, is tired, is not at all interested in playing right now, or has an attitude problem.

All of which sounds a lot like the adults I know.

In my opinion, games for adults are games for children. Games that we currently call "for children" are for no one. A child's first game should be checkers, fox and sheep, chinese checkers, or similar. Not Candy Land.



MaksimSmelchak said...

Hi Yehuda,

I look for simpler games that are easy to play and can be easy to visualize victory from.

Games that have too many factors make it hard for smaller folks to envision victory.

I recently tried out "Drakon" trying to find a winner for my nephews. They didn't like it.

And "Robo Rally" was too frustrating for them. They obviously don't have the spatial sence for that game yet.

"Settlers" is still a hit though.

And the "Ticket To Ride" series is working out OK. they often have a ahrd time with the long-term planning though.

"Guillotine" is another winner. They never get tired of it.

One of these days, they'll get advanced enough to play the more sophisticated stuff with their uncle... like "Puerto Rico."


Yehuda Berlinger said...

I agree that simpler games with less choices are necessary for children. I only object to games with no choices. Those aren't games.

Some people claim that they teach kids how to be patient and take turns, and rules about where pieces can go; but so do simple adult games, and they let your children rise to a capable level, too.

I disapprove of games with low expectations for the purpose of coddling children and "raising their self esteem". It only means that they will a) not be prepared for real challenges, and b) have low goals in life.

BUT!!! I also maintain that games are against yourself as much as they are against your opponent, and that a person should learn to feel good about how well they have done irrespective of whether they won or not.