Welcome, dear readers, to the inaugural article of the new Table Tots column! I’m so excited to be writing about kids and games and how the simple rolling of dice can strengthen our familial bonds, reduce our parenting frustrations, and help our kids grow up to be better adults.
When the idea for this column started percolating in my brain, Archer – my nearly-5 year old – was playing his first rounds of “Dragons and Dungeons” with his dad. I would watch them play and be astounded by HOW Archer was playing the game.
Coming at role playing without any preconceived notions, he was interacting with the world in a way I didn’t expect. His main goal was always self-preservation, rather than fame or riches or experience points. He let fear dictate many of his actions, retreating when he felt things were getting too serious. But, with each roll of the dice, he grew a little more bold. With each swipe of his sword, he became a little more confident.
But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t throw a full-on fit any time that the bad guys hit him… and it got me to thinking about the many ways in which RPGs teach our kids valuable lessons about how to fail. Here’s a few that I think are especially important:
1) What even ARE win conditions?
When you’re little, winning is very one-dimensional. You’ve won the race or you haven’t. But, in RPGs, there are many win conditions, each with their own reward. From collecting experience to overcoming personal obstacles to slaying the most goblins, winning isn’t JUST about getting the big baddie to topple.
Once your little ones discover that, gaming becomes especially exciting. They come to embrace multiple win conditions in a way that creates a complicated (in a good way!) game where they must juggle their resources along with their motivations to make hard choices that allow them to win (or lose!) in their own way.
2) There’s no “I” in team
Even when Archer is playing D&D solo, we make sure he has a sidekick or two to help him out. We wanted him to understand that, when you’re going on grand adventures, a brave team is your best resource.
When gaming with your kids, take the time to emphasize that it’s a team effort – just like soccer or ballet. With all of you working together and trying your hardest, there’s more monsters to kill and more fun to be had.
3) It’s not your thing
Your brave team of adventurers, though, need not individually be good at everything. Each character, just like each of your kid’s classmates and friends, has different strengths and weaknesses.
Kids can take losing so personally, especially when those around them seem to succeed effortlessly. Reflecting back on how your cleric is a great healer, but maybe not a great puncher, can reduce the frustration that accompanies difficult tasks.
4) Losing the battle, but not the war!
When you’re little, trying again and again gets frustrating – and that effort is associated with so many new skills. From playing video games to writing the alphabet, there’s a whole lot of “try, try again” going on. And that suuuuucks.
But, when you play RPGs, you quickly figure out that, even if you biff it on the first go, trying again gives you an advantage. You learn something about your villains and master new abilities, even if you aren’t triumphant at the end of every fight. Being able to fall back on that example when your kid goes into “I just CAN’T do it” mode is, as a parent, so valuable.
5) It doesn’t matter if you win or lose…
Because RPGs are all about playing to different win conditions, getting up even after you’ve been knocked down, and finding ways to triumph over the bad guys, it’s among the very best ways to teach your kids that it’s all about how you play the game.
With each decision they make, you can instill in them a sense of bravery and do-goodery that will make them a better competitor, no matter what the stakes.
How have RPGs helped your kids learn how to lose?
Have an idea for a Table Tots column? Send an email to Liz@TheIlluminerdy.com with your pitch! We’d love to feature your words on our blog!