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.

Creating Worlds

How to create a fully functioning world for you to populate with characters and write stories about.

Writers are fortunate that they already have a fully functioning world to write stories about.  It’s very convenient.  All you need then is a scenario.  Something interesting happening in our world.  For crime fiction this scenario can be someone commits a murder.  The writer then goes about writing what would happen in our society if someone commits a murder.  Crime fiction often goes that extra step and asks what if someone committed an unsolvable crime.  How would you solve it?  What if you want more than just writing a story in our world though?  What if you want to create a completely new world?  How do you go about it?

I will give you my method.  How I create worlds.  To create a world all you need is a question.  Find one thing to change in our world and you immediately create a completely different world.  That may sound like an exaggeration but with the right tools one question changes everything.  Take the crime fiction.  Instead of the unsolvable murder we set it in a world where murder is perfectly legal.  Suddenly our story ceases being a crime fiction since the action isn’t a crime.  The first thing we need to answer when changing something about our world is; is this possible in our society? If our government made murder legal what would happen?  The answer is probably that society would fall apart within the year.  That could be your story right there except that it would never happen.   That’s how you know that such a thing wouldn’t function in our society.   So obviously we have to change our society to a society where not only could that happen but it has.  As the creator of worlds you now have to make the society functional.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact you can design it so that it’s on the brink of collapse.  However you do it.  Idealistic utopia or on the verge of anarchy or somewhere in between the society taking shape has to deviate from our society to make the new constant functional and believable.

How do you create this new society though?  A good starting point is with the typical Joe Blow of this world.  What is his life like?  You don’t need to give him much character or anything.  Just start up a dialogue with him as the average guy on the street.  Interrogate him about the world.  In this process it is important to remember that to Joe his world is totally normal and if he was a writer perhaps he’d be pondering what a world with murder as a crime would be like (well there’s a storyline idea already).   Ask him questions and the world will start taking shape around him.  For example:

Me:  So Joe, tell me, what would happen if you murdered your neighbour.

Joe:  Their friends and family would probably either come round and ask me why I did it or they’d kill me.  Or both.

Me:  Ok so people don’t kill each other because they’d probably be killed?

Joe:  Plenty of people are willing to take the chance.

Me:  oh Ok.  What about if you made it so that his friends and family couldn’t kill you or talk to you about it?

Joe:  How would I do that?

Me:  Maybe if you made your house impregnable?

Joe:  Build a castle?

Me:  Yea

Joe:  Oh I don’t have the resources for that.

Me:  What if you did?

Joe:  I suppose they’d try and destroy my castle  (another story idea)

Me:  What about people who do have the resources?  Do they have private armies and castles?

Joe:  Oh yea, the rich live in high security houses with a personal trained guard

Me:  Do the rich wage war on each other?

Joe:  It can happen.  if one company wants to take over another they can do it with force.  Usually it destroys the assets they want so it’s not that common. (another story line)

Me:  Do the rich kill people since they can’t be harmed?

Joe:  Some rich people hunt humans (another story line)

and so on…

Just so you know, I’m not working on any of those stories.  In fact I just wrote up that dialogue then based on that one simple question; what if murder was legal?  Now this may not be spot on.  That doesn’t matter, it’s not about doing a research paper on what the statistical probabilities are were we to make murder legal.  It’s about creating a believable world.  Maybe allowing people to kill each other would create some perfect kill free world.  Maybe they never had to specify not to kill people.  Maybe everyone is extremely polite and civil to each other terrified that the slightest social faux pas would result in their death.  Perhaps no one questions a murder because they assume the person deserved it.   Maybe the paranoia of being killed is too high for some people that they kill before they can be killed.  The possibilities go on.

This is how I create worlds.  I start with a question.  Then,  I put people in that world and start asking them questions.  Making characters who are experts in a certain area in that world also helps to flesh it out.  Instead of just a societal perspective you can also gain academic perspectives.  As the writer of this world you can interrogate anyone.  These characters need never even make it to the story you write.  They are there to bounce your ideas off.    In addition to fleshing out your world these dialogues create more and more questions.  One questions leads to many.

This is the way I do it.  I’d be interested to know how other people create worlds.

Even if you are not a writer, creating worlds is a fun logic puzzle.  Enjoy.

What I Learnt Not to do From My Parents About Parenting part 1

Needless conflict

When I was a little boy I liked the colour pink and I wanted to have long hair.  My mum fought valiantly against this.  Every chance she had she tried to convince me that pink wasn’t a good colour to like and that long hair didn’t look good on boys.  As you can guess this was a major point of contention between us.  From my mum’s perspective I was being decidedly unmanly.  She wouldn’t have put it in those words though because she is university professor in gender studies and would balk at realising that she had been engaging in gender construction.  My liking of pink didn’t really have any consequences.  I had no interest in clothes shopping and if I was given money it would go towards buying lego but the length of my hair was a monthly argument.

As a sidebar as a child I never based my actions, likes or dislikes on gender.  For me I was a boy therefore everything I did was what boys did.  It was a perfect bit of logic which led to many moments of frustration at other people’s gender obsession.

Onto the hair fight; From as far back as I can remember I wanted long hair. The reason was simple.  I thought short hair looked stupid.  It was purely a style thing.  I hated the way I looked with short hair and loved the way I looked with long hair.  For my mum it was the other way round.   Looking back on the whole situation it seems unreasonably stupid.  Simply because it was an unnecessary conflict made all the more unnecessary because it wasn’t backed with any kind of logic. Both of our positions were purely subjective and thus we were unable to convince each other of our position.

What can be taken away from this?  As mentioned this is a case of unnecessary conflict.  There was no reason to have this conflict and all it did was create bad blood.  If you are having a conflict with your child ask yourself what is the conflict about?  Why is it important to me and why is it important to my child?   The last question is in fact the most important.  Children are logical thinking beings.  There position on things is just as logical and reasonable as yours.  Their logic may be childish and a little foolish but they have still thought it out.  If you are going into direct conflict with something they believe you should give them a good reason.  You should back it up with logic.  If your logic is based purely on your own subjective experience then it probably is going to be a prolonged and ultimately useless conflict.  Since it is just a matter of opinion.  Any conflict where your logic is “because i think it looks dumb.” Will not go well.

As a parent I won’t tell my children that they need to do something without giving my reasons why.  If mum had asked those questions I had written above she’d probably have stopped arguing.  Her answers would have been “It’s about the length of my son’s hair.  It’s important to me because long hair doesn’t suit him.  It’s important to him because he thinks short hair doesn’t suit him.”  I say she would have stopped arguing because neither side is right or wrong.  We had opposing perspectives that were part of who we were.   Which is the crux of this lesson.  If you sit down, think about the conflict and try to get to the core of it you may realise that your position is just as childishly illogical as your child’s.

Death and the future

Some Philosophy

Recently I was talking with my sister about the future of humanity.  I have always felt that we must do what we can for the future of humanity.  It is a major driving force for me though most of what I can do for the future of humanity is think, talk and write.  My sister’s response was that while she agreed with me after she dies she won’t care.  This logic is flawless.  Whether you are religious or not there is still a sense that once you die nothing matters.  Those who believe in a heaven usually believe it as a separate place.  Atheists believe you cease to be.  While there are other beliefs that suggest after death you just come back to Earth and go again.  Those beliefs also say that you as a conscious being won’t continue on.  Regardless I will die and it won’t matter is a prevalent belief throughout humanity.  It is also a detrimental thought to the future of humanity.

Humans tend to think of themselves outside of the collective humanity.  We do what we want for ourselves.  However every human is part of humanity.  What we think and feel and do reflects the greater whole of humanity.  If we are all going around saying I will die and it won’t matter then the future of humanity will ultimately die and it won’t matter.  We need to get over our own death and start thinking about the immortality of humanity rather than the mortality of humans.  Our fixation with death will be the death of us.