Lifestyle choices part 5: playing games with my family and friends

We are living in a gaming golden age regardless of the medium you play in. Whether it’s sports, board games, pen and paper, computer or console you will be able to find a game for you. As a lifestyle choice games of all kinds is an essential part of my life and want it to become an essential part of my family life as well.

While I listed several quite different categories my biggest passion is board games. Like many, I grew up with chess, monopoly, trivial pursuit and scrabble. With the exception of chess these are all pretty terrible games for various reasons which i won’t go into. There are now so many wonderful and amazing board games out there today that my generation growing up sorely lacked. Getting together with friends around a board game is a great social experience. Getting to really understand the tactics and strategies of a game and finding out the myriad of ways to win is also exciting. Gone are the days where you can only win one way. Look into games now and you’ll find them offering a rich mental exercise and an immersive theme to boot. It’s no wonder that I hope to introduce my children to this world.

There are plenty of reasons other then the sheer joy of it. There are so many different games out their now that you can find any number of different games for different mental skill development. It may come as a surprise but board games are more for adults as an intellectual challenge than they are for children as something to do on a rainy day. Fortunately there are plenty of accessible games for children to build up those logic skills so they can play the good stuff. Board games develop logic. They give you a framework of rules to abide by in which you need to solve a problem. The more games you play the better your logic gets. I should qualify that with depending on what games you play. Almost all euro-games will develop your problem solving skills. While we are on the topic of logic, there is a similarity in the logic practiced in games and the logic practiced in mathematics. This isn’t to say that while you are playing games you’ll be solving quadratic equations. It’s the logic in noticing patterns and solving abstract problems. Playing games will improve your ability to understand complex reasoning. Something that certainly can’t hurt a child’s development.

Another area that games build are imagination. There is a wide range of story building games out there challenging you to create your own stories using prompts, such as Gloom or Once Upon a Time. They reward creativity and being able to follow a story-line. I’m looking forward to the day I sit down with my two girls and make stories with them. Games offer a gateway into greater creativity. Pen and paper games also play heavily into this. Not only building creativity but also improvisation skills and creative problem solving and that’s just for the players. The role as the moderator / dungeon master / game guide or whatever else you want to call it is to paint worlds for the other to explore and be challenged by.

Of course one of the biggest exercises mental skill gaming builds is memory. There are a score of games that rely heavily on memory as the means to victory. I don’t just mean remembering where a certain thing is or an obscure fact. There are games that you have to rely on your memory to follow what is going on in the game. Games like Masquerade, Coup, Gentlemen Thieves, Libertalia to name a few require you to deduce who is who or who has what to win the game. People often take memory for granted. That is to say assume it can’t get better. The more you work your memory the better you get at remembering things. One of the things that child prodigies of all areas have in common is a fantastic memory. By developing your children’s memory you can ensure a better life for them.

In the list I mentioned computer and console games. This is a tricky area in terms of child development. I grew up with computer games and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I believe I gained many of the skills mentioned for board games. Understanding patterns and solving problems within set parameters. As an added bonus it helped me develop my computer skills. Playing computer games develops your ability to use computer programs. I have a theory that Japan’s low computer literacy stems from children playing console games instead of computer games. Thus it seems to me that I should expose my children to computer games. The tricky part is when and what games. There are so many stupefying games out there on the market but there are also plenty of interesting and mentally challenging games too. The big question is where to draw the line? This one concerns me in the same way that any long term exposure to media such as television shows and smart phones. Phones are useful but can also be massive time wasters for no gain. Same with TV shows but then there are some fantastic TV shows out there which are worth watching. My current thoughts on the matter are to try and expose my children to shows and games I value and hope they develop a good sense of their own interests media wise.

I also mentioned sports. I did that to remind people that a sport is no different to the other games I’ve mentioned except that there is an active component and often a co-operative element. A person who is pro sports but anti gaming has probably just not tried gaming. Similarly a person who is into gaming but not into sports should really give it a try. I’m sure they’ll find that there is just as much mental activity going on in sports.

I could go on and on about the merits of gaming and child development. Or the merits of gaming and having a fulfilling life. I’ll leave it there though since i feel I’ve covered the main reasons I’ll game, play sports and role-play with my family.

Life style choices part 4 GM free foods only

I’m going to come out and say that I am anti genetically modified food. It’s been a difficult journey since I am not against the study and application of genetic modification. I am specifically against it in the agriculture industry though. There’s a number of reasons why I’m against it.

The first reason is the case of the Rape flower (where we get canola oil). The company that makes Round up decided it would be a good idea to modify seeds to make them immune to round up. Thus being able to sell both seed and round up to farmers. For those who don’t know, round up is a kill all herbicide. So creating crops that were immune to this meant that we could go ahead and use Round Up on our crops without worrying about our crops dying. Seems reasonable, what’s the problem? Other than my own preference for Organic farming there are other reasons why it’s a bad idea. For starters Rape flowers themselves have become particularly hard to kill weeds. Since a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The other problem is gene flow. Immunity to herbicides will flow to other plants making more plants immune to herbicides. Yes, ironically I’m saying that this could force farmers to use organic farming methods to combat herbicide immune weeds in their fields.

The second reason I’ve come to be against Gene modded seeds for agriculture is the creation of 1st generation only seeds. These are plants that will still create seeds but their seeds are duds. So that you have to keep on buying from the corporation that made the seeds. Gene flow means that this no second generation ability will be inherited by others possibly destroying our ability to grow in the first place. I don’t feel I need to comment any further about this. The problem should be pretty obvious.

The third reason is traditional farming methods. Here’s the thing, I’ve heard people say things like ‘we’ve been genetically modifying food since we started farming, just look at the banana or the large apples in Japan.’ Here’s the problem with that statement; you’re not talking about genetic modification when you say that. I don’t know the specific term but the reason the apples in Japan are huge and sweet instead tiny and sour is because the farmers have been favouring seeds that produce large sweet apples. A big issue with the GM seed industry is that they are going into contracts with farmers so that farmers are no longer the ones that can choose their seeds. We are stopping that traditional breeding the fruit to be tastier. You may say well that’s the farmer’s choice. Sometimes though it isn’t. GM crops next to non GM crops contaminate that crop. In the cases of the no 2nd generation seeding problem mentioned above it means the non GM farmers are forced into getting GM crops because they can no longer get their hands on good seeds. Especially as GM seeding companies buy up more and more seed companies and distribute their inferior product.

Just my thoughts and views on the matter. Organic non-GM for as long as I can since one day it may not be a choice at all.

Ideal Lifestyle Part 3: Playing the Shamisen

Playing music on the shamisen

Because it is enjoyable and challenging

I like the shamisen and Japanese folk music

The sound appeals to my sense of aesthetic

The sounds reminds me of classic guitar which I find beautiful but at the same time the feeling I get when I play the shamisen is different to the feeling I get when I play the guitar. Closer.

It feels like it’s the instrument I’m meant to have. I get it. Mostly anyway.

My ideal lifestyle part 2: reading to my children

This is part two of my ideal lifestyle.  It was never a question whether or not I’d read to my children on a regular basis.  We have a large children’s book collection for my children. When it comes to story time my daughter is always the first there and the last to leave.  This is a point of pride for me. So why do I consider this part of my ideal lifestyle?

There are several reasons each building off each other.The primary reason is of course that I value reading itself.  I can’t imagine how dull my life would be without reading. Especially since I wouldn’t be interested in being a writer if I wasn’t interested in reading. Since writing is a major part of my life I’d say without reading I’d be a completely different person.  So I like reading and want my children to like reading. That’s not all there is to it.

The main reason I regularly read to my children, and even feel guilty when I miss a day, is because your reading habits are determined by your experience with books as a child. Reading a story is a skill. That may seem like a strange concept to some people but there is more to reading then understanding the alphabet and how words relate to each other in a sentence. There are three skills used when you read. They are skimming, scanning and detailed reading.  Skimming is when you are just reading for a general idea. It tends to be quick. When you skim you’ll probably skip words and even sentences you deem unnecessary for getting the general idea of the story.  Scanning is when you are looking for specific information. I often read a novel by skimming. I’m a plot person. If your novel is reliant on me enjoying they way you have strung your sentences together I’m probably going to lose interest really quickly. Since I tend to skim I’ll sometimes miss a point and have to go back through the pages scanning for a piece of information I missed. The third type of reading is called detailed. It’s pretty obvious what it means. Detailed reading is going through sentence by sentence. It’s how we often read textbooks or works of non-fiction. These reading skills are naturally leveled up through our reading experiences. Like any skill the more you do it the better you get. Similarly the earlier you start the less difficulty you’ll have later on in life. Reading to my children helps set the framework for their reading habits and skills when they are older.

Imagine a person who was never read to as a child. That kid would have no reason to pick up a book in the home. They’d be exposed to books for the first time in school. It would take them that much longer than a child who was exposed to books in the home to get into books. Since their parents didn’t value the reading experience they too wouldn’t. Of course there would be exceptions.  They’d struggle to get interested and would be easily distracted. By the time they are adults they may pick up a book once a year if that and take a month or two to read it. They’d probably just wait until it’s made into a TV show.

So that’s why in my ideal lifestyle I read to my children. To prepare them for a lifetime of reading.