Here is where I tell you that I don’t play games that often. It’s because I am worried about losing, worried about not understanding the nuances or strategy as fast as other players, impatient at the prospect of making weird moves when it’s my turn. I want to guarantee I will have fun or enrich myself somehow. I’m just naturally hesitant to dive into an experience that might cause me to feel uncertain. OK fine maybe some of these are things I should work out on my own, but I still maintain that some games can bear the burden of being both very inviting and forbidding at the same time.
When my kids ask me to play a game with them, I run through a mental protocol that considers all these things. Sometimes I’ll be like “Ah shoot I really need to unload the dishwasher for the next two hours undisturbed, real sorry.” I get it though. To them, they want to take that risk of feeling uncertain, of not knowing what they will encounter, of finding the fun along the way. Life is about exploration. Heck even my close friend and colleague extols the virtues of that satisfying discovery. So while it might not come to me right away every time, I definitely recognize that it is an enjoyable emotion on the human spectrum. I know, I know, so brave of me!
But there is at least one notable exception. It’s No-Stress Chess. My kids love this game. And it even promises no stress in the title! So right there I’m more engaged. Plus, chess is an ancient classic enjoyed the world over for centuries, so it’s hard for even me to mount a viable defense against its merits.
This game is played in a few different difficulty levels. For beginners like my middle kid, we use the stack of cards that tells you what pieces you have to play next. Draw a card, move that piece if you can. If you can’t, draw again. Literally no stress so far. You just have to think about how or where to move your piece. Great! It leaves in the fun mental part, but prescribes just enough of the gameplay to make it approachable to a broad audience that even includes scared aging dads.
My eldest plays the standard classic way now, unchained from the card system that had started to oppress her strategic mind. Not only did the game teach her how to play, it brought her skill level up to where she found the challenging version of it more enjoyable. Sidenote: she’s kind of too good at it now so I don’t love playing with her for that reason, but you get the point.
Sometimes people don’t want to feel exposed or tested. Maybe you’re having a terrible day or you're not in the mood to feel a little frustrated, a feeling which we know can lead to real learning breakthroughs as well. As Brian mentioned, it’s OK for games to be simple, or modified, or completely changed in pursuit of a higher aspiration. Like bringing people together, building confidence, or connecting with a foundational concept. The most effective solution isn’t the same for everyone, and you can customize it until it resonates with the people you’re trying to reach. Try adding different modes, levels, earned cheats, hints, or more advanced unlockable tasks in your training and games to create a motivating scaffold effect. You could be giving your audience the exact kind of boost they need to master the behaviors.
Not sure if this is relevant, but my youngest kid likes to throw the cards everywhere, knock over the pieces, and stomp on the box. It’s possible she is playing an entirely different and altogether macabre game. I didn’t want to ask.