Inventing kinder, gentler games for the kids

Pirates of teh Caribbean Life: boxWe were playing a family favorite, Pirates of the Caribbean Life, the other evening, and I noticed an interesting phenomenon that’s so common I usually don’t even notice it: my kids modify game rules to make games more friendly and cooperative.

In Pirates of the Caribbean Life, there’s a “RAID” square you can land on, which then lets you attack another player and, if the spins are in your favor, steal their ship or otherwise steal money from ’em. It is, after all, a pirate-themed game, so you should expect some level of hostility and aggression.

Not with my kids, though.

After the first or second time we played POC Life my 8yo son G- consistently said “I’ll pass” when he landed on the RAID square and we all soon followed suit. The square is now basically a “free” space and the game proceeds with far fewer hurt feelings and upset when things aren’t going well or one player has the much coveted Black Pearl and doesn’t want to give it up after a successful RAID.

This desire to have games be more pleasant extends to even the most basic of competitive games, Uno, where my kids tend to gang up and lay all the pesky “draw four” cards on me, not on each other. Somehow it’s still more-or-less fun (I’m competitive, but not that competitive!) but more importantly the kids don’t get too upset as the game proceeds.

Monopoly: UK edition boardWe play Monopoly too, but I can’t play that with Linda around: she insists I’m taking advantage of the kids on proposed trades and constantly intervenes. Even with this game, though, if I’m falling behind, G- especially will keep offering to give me money and be surprised when I decline. His desire is for us to be “balanced” in our financial holdings, though he’s learning to be a horse trader too!

This might be one reason that our favorite games are the relatively non-competitive card games like Gin Rummy and 5 Card Draw Poker. They’re not uncompetitive, but you don’t steal cards from each other and frankly it seems to most often be me and one or two of the kids playing, rather than them playing by themselves.

In fact, now that I think about it, I rarely see any of the three of them playing a board or card game with each other without a parent involved. They’ll play with a friend, sometimes, esp. A-, our 11yo, but generally when they’re playing amongst themselves they find other pursuits, most commonly drawing, cutting out complex shapes, coloring or other artistic efforts.

I’m intrigued by their desire to make competitive games more friendly, though. Do you have any kids — or friends — who do this too? If so, what games do they find are the most enjoyable with modified rules, and how do they modify the rules?

As a disclaimer, I’ve always loved playing games and while Dungeons and Dragons passed me by (too complicated for a pastime, imo) I have spent many hours playing other games, from Rail Baron to Civilization, Monopoly to Cribbage. I don’t mind bending or modifying the rules, but certainly not to make a game more pleasant. More balanced, yes, but friendly? Pshaw! 🙂

4 comments on “Inventing kinder, gentler games for the kids

  1. It’s interesting you bring this up, as I’ve noticed this too – particularly when we play Sorry! or Blockus. They’ll trade pieces w/each other, to help each other out. They’ll gain up on me (often recruiting my wife to their cause). When they were younger, I think it came from a desire to keep “the younger ones” engaged and interested in playing the game.
    While I see this cooperative play within the family structure, I’ve noticed that their level of competitiveness increases, and that they will tend to be even more competitive amongst their own peer groups. Watching my youngest, K- (5.5 yo) in kindergarten, I could see her running a country in her early twenties, and N- (8 yo) is more of a “protector” for those not as competitive, but then very, very competitive w/those of a similar or better skill set than his. Interesting…

  2. I wish I were one of your kids! When I was growing up, my siblings and I (three of us total) would take every opportunity to attack each other in any kind of game we played. Oh well…

  3. I think this is what every AP parent wants to see. Their kids growing up to be compassionate and caring. Well done!

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