Better When We’re Together

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Here’s the thing about Minecraft… It’s way better to play with friends! Sam will play by himself if he has to, but even then he’ll call me over to share his new findings and bounce ideas around. In order to keep me engaged in the game, he’s come up with some interesting tactics. He built me a farm in one of his worlds, and then made sure to plant food and flowers that I like. He built a big house, which he filled with paintings and book shelves.  He’s also started creating elements that appeal to his sister, like castles with purple walls.

To satisfy his social gaming, in addition to weekend play dates, he’s started going to a weekly kids’ Minecraft club at our local library. The club was started by a fifth grade student from Sam’s school, and typically five to ten kids attend each week. It’s been interesting to observe the group dynamics. The older kids are sometimes helpful to the younger kids, but they’re also typically more competitive and a lot louder. There are a few girls that attend regularly, which has made Isabel more interested in both the game and the club (and now I want to learn more about girls in gaming).

Let’s Have Some Fun In Minecraft!

photo-6Forget about football, the only game of note in our house is Minecraft. We’re not alone; to date the PC version of the game has sold 14 million copies. Players can also craft using a PlayStation 3 version, an Xbox 360 version, and a mobile pocket edition.

We’re going to do a mini-study of some of our big questions about Minecraft this month.

  • How can we make a working spaceship on Minecraft? (Sam)
  • How can we make a princess castle? (Isabel)
  • How can we set up our own private server? (Elise)
  • What if we could start a Minecraft birthday party business? How would we do it? (Elise and Sam)
  • Why do people like Minecraft so much? Why does it appeal to such a wide age-range? (Michael)

I’m sure that more questions will come up as we go, as they always do!

 

Envisioning: Redefining Games

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“…I mostly just like the chance to put together these ideas I have as I’m wandering through life. I’ve had a few other “creative” pursuits in the past, particularly writing failed novels and drawing comics, but somehow making games feels like it fits me the best – it was a really great discovery to make. There’s something incredibly satisfying about having an idea for something interactive, and then writing the code and the art and the sounds and the text and so on that makes it a reality. And then just firing it onto the internet so other people might have a look at it.

I guess the shortest answer is just that I have a lot of ideas for things I think would be funny or interesting in game form and I want them to exist, so I make them.”

– Pippin Barr, from an interview at Quote Unquote

I’ve been sick and not doing much in the blog arena over the last few days, but I’ll add more links tomorrow, from Pippin Barr and others in the game design field.

Let’s Play Together

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We met some friends in the mountains this weekend. They have two daughters, one who’s close to Sam’s age. Sam and Fiona don’t play together that often, but when they do it’s like they’ve know each other forever. They don’t focus on their differences, one a five-year-old girl and one a six-year-old boy. They just hit the ground running, literally. I don’t really know what they talk about or what they’re even playing, just that they laugh a lot. This morning they both woke up at 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so they whispered in their bunk beds, shared glow-in-the-dark silly putty, and made plans for ice skating and sledding.

They don’t go to the same school, and maybe that’s what makes their relationship work so well. I’ve noticed that boys and girls don’t mix that often at Sam’s school. When I pick him up in the afternoon, the boys are usually involved in some sort of playground espionage, while the girls enact their own dramas, just as interesting, but different. I wonder if Fiona and Sam would play during recess, if they went to the same school.

I’ve been thinking about their friendship, and why it seems so extraordinary, so I began searching for articles and blogs that focus on gender and childhood. I was happy to find  Superhero Princess, and Hillary Manaster’s post – “10 Reasons Girls & Boys Should Play Together.” The blog tagline is excellent: Strengthening connections between boys and girls, and laying the foundation for harmonious relationships in the future. 

I’d love to know your thoughts about encouraging friendships between girls and boys.

As a parent or a teacher, what do you do to create diverse play opportunities for your kids? Do your kids see you involved in healthy relationships/friendships with members of the ‘opposite’ sex?

Book Review: An Artful Alphabet

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Groom by Jennifer Kincaid

You might have gathered by now that we’re defining the category of Games pretty broadly. Anything that leads you to engagement and playfulness could be a game. Tonight’s book might bring exactly those elements into your life.

My step-sister, Jennifer Kincaid, is an artist and entrepreneur, based out of San Francisco. In addition to creating beautiful “traditional” abstract art, she plays with large-scale collaborative works that engage the public – crowdsource art. Six Factorial Times Four to the Sixth is a wonderful example of art morphing into game playing, with the whole process leading to conversation and community engagement. She’s taken that project and created an on-line beta version called Interactorial, which is very game-like and fun.

Jennifer’s current project is called An Artful Alphabet of Scribel Dudel. The first free coloring book in the series is A is for AbstractYou can download and print the free PDF version of the book, and then color and create to your heart’s content. Once you’ve scribbled and doodled some masterful work, you can upload photos of your work to a flickr pool, and see what others are up to.

I hope you’ll check out Jennifer’s work, share it with friends, and then get in there and play!

Envisioning: The Game of the Moment

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“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we
make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
― Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow

Setting Intentions: The Game of Life

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Game month wouldn’t be complete without a little Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly, currently a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his research in the areas of happiness, creativity, and the concept of flow.

My Mihaly connection is that I think about his flow theory every time I do the dishes. When I first read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, several years ago, I was impressed by an interview with a man who Mihaly found to be particularly joyful and content. His work was in a factory, and he approached each day, and each task as if it was a puzzle waiting to be solved. Mihaly described the man as being completely engaged in the moment, in a contest with himself to perform his work with efficiency.

I still have a long way to go, to create more flow in my life, but each time I do the dishes, it does turn into a game. The exact rules vary from day to day – sometimes it’s a race to beat the clock, sometimes it’s a game of balance, to see how many dishes I can carry at once from sink to cupboard. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to compete with me in the category of “most efficiently and fully loaded dishwasher.” This is my very best event, because I can always fit another coffee mug in there. Always.

I’ve read other theories that label these types of mental games as escapist – that the game player isn’t engaged in the reality of the moment, and that’s somehow bad. Honestly, I don’t care. If I’m going to do the dishes every night, for the rest of my days, I may as well have a little fun.

As a family, we naturally integrate all sorts of mini-games into our daily tasks. Do you think you can run downstairs to get your pajamas in less than a minute? How many bags of groceries can you carry in from the car? The puffy pancakes will be in the oven for fifteen minutes – do you think I can take a shower and get dressed before the timer goes off? The one standard that I try to keep in mind, is focusing on competing with ourselves, rather than others. Maybe that comes from my high school track team days – it’s great to win a race, but it’s even better when you beat your own personal record.

What are your mental games, that can turn chores from tedious to engaging? 

Free the Toys

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How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

It’s a convoluted tale, that began at the Northwest Denver Toy LIbrary. We’re fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing since we’ll be able to return them in three weeks

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The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, always run and stocked by volunteers. We’re usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking, and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies, and Nanospeeds. The toys that he’s willing to donate are all collected from Happy Meals, but it’s a great start. You can see that SpongeBob isn’t sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

IMG_8558The problem is that SpongeBob can’t move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren’t brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don’t have papers, so we’ve come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we’re going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks, and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked “Free Toys” so the finders will have no doubt.

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Tomorrow we’ll start the great toy drop. Got any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 

Let the Games Begin

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Enough with food, let’s play instead! As our theme moves from meals to games, our daily focus for posts is shifting a little…As of today, this is what we’ve got laid out for February:

Saturdays: Playing Well With Others – interviews/profiles 

Sundays: Setting Intentions

Mondays: Envisioning

Tuesdays: Top Ten Resources

Wednesdays: Book Reviews

Thursdays: Play With Your Food

Fridays: Homemade Games and Toys 

Let me know if you have any requests, for any of the categories!