Am I the architect of my own downfall?

I fear that I may turn out to be the architect of my own downfall.

Our children have inherited a love of games from both of us, something we have been all too happy to nurture. But are we laying the groundwork for our own demise?

There are many good reasons for encouraging kids to participate in multi-player games, whether it is the relative simplicity of Ludo or Downfall or the complexity of Minecraft and other world-building games.

From developing strategic thinking to mastering basic principles of risk and chance to reading other people through their body language, playing games is a useful investment of time that teaches us valuable life skills. At least, that’s my excuse for regularly playing Civilization on my computer until four in the morning and going to work bleary-eyed on three hours’ sleep for a long period in my early twenties.

Games are also a good way to teach kids to channel their competitiveness in a way that is productive rather than alienating. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win as long as you accept that sometimes you will lose, and that you can usually learn more in defeat than you do from victory. And, of course, game-playing teaches you how to both win and lose with good grace. (At least, it should – in my mid-forties, I’m still trying to learn that one.)

Competitive kids?

Our kids are competitive in different ways.

Isaac is focussed and driven when it comes to academics but less so when it comes to sports or games. That mirrors his cerebral rather than physical nature. The day he made a mistake and failed to get 100% in a spelling test you would have thought the apocalypse had arrived. And yet he’s happy to finish second in a sports day race he could have won.

Kara is fiercely competitive and hates to lose at anything. I think that’s hard-wired into her nature but it’s perhaps also a function of being the youngest of three children. She’s used to constantly striving to emulate her brothers and be treated as an equal in everything she does. In her mind, there’s nothing older kids can do that she can’t. That’s not a bad attitude to have at any stage of life.

Toby can be an odd one. He can be incredibly focussed and motivated but he can also be incredibly lackadaisical and indifferent. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his approach to homework. On a good day he will spend hours researching a topic and carefully crafting tidy and creative work that he takes great pride in. On a bad day he will rattle through it all as fast as he can and produce an illegible scrawl with no care for the potential consequences. Unfortunately that’s a characteristic he has inherited from me. Sorry, Toby.

So in their own way, each of our kids is competitive. Particularly when they are playing against each other, when they’re each more than happy to cheat or, ahem, reinterpret the rules if they think they can get away with it.

Two or three steps ahead

Anyhow, back to the benefits of playing games. With our kids ranging in age from four to nine, we’re at a point where we still play children’s board games – Ludo and Monopoly Junior are popular staples in our household – but increasingly we’re moving on to family or adult games.

The boys have been playing Minecraft for a couple of years. Its collaborative, world-building nature has been fantastic for leveraging their respective strengths – Isaac is the planner, Toby the creative one. It brings out the best in both of them and the complexity of some of their constructions is breathtaking.

All three kids are also hooked on a strategy board game called Ticket to Ride, which we play on our tablets. It’s fascinating watching their individual approaches to the game. Isaac is the best strategist and devises clear plans, although his weakness is he does not respond well to unexpected events. Toby has a more flexible approach but sometimes lacks a clear plan and the willingness to follow through on it. Kara has a surprisingly advanced strategic mind for a four-year-old – she’s capable of devising a plan although her logical thinking ability is still a work in progress.

What’s even more fascinating is to see how quickly their skill level and gameplay have evolved. After a few games, it was apparent how much they had improved, not just in their game results but in their ability to read what was happening, what strategies the computerised players were using and to think two or three steps ahead. The boys in particular are constantly asking me questions about how I play the game that show a surprising level of sophistication.

That’s fantastic now when they are playing a game on the iPad. But what happens when they are a year or two older and working out ways to outwit their parents? I’m still several steps ahead of them – but they’re catching up fast. I suspect it won’t be long until they are running rings around me.

So, anyone for a game of Ludo?

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