/ PATHWAYS / Educational / Hazel's Success with Failure
As a parent, I want my child to be able to take on hard problems, persevere in the face of setbacks, and see failure in a healthy way - not as a self-defining attribute, but rather a necessary and useful tool for growth and long-term success. I also want her to have a positive mindset about her own skill development, so that she believes herself capable of developing any skills she would like to pursue for herself. Play, particularly with games, has been one way we have explored these ideas together and through games I've seen her grow in these areas.
Outcome A positive mindset on tackling hard challenges and dealing with failure
This outcome arises from the following 5 milestones over the span of 4 years, from 4 - 8 years-old:
Age: 4-years-old / 01/01/2017 / 5 years ago
Play Styles: Competitive In The Same Room and Turn-Based Play
One of the very first games that Hazel played where she could lose was a board game called Unicorn Glitterluck Cloud Crystals. She picked this game out herself, attracted by the Unicorn theme, which was very much her favorite creature at age 3. She was very excited to play but not at all excited to lose. When we first started playing together, she would get mad or frustrated if she lost. We worked with her on getting comfortable with the idea that she would not always be the winner. Over the months where this game saw repeat play, she experimented with different strategies to come to terms with this idea, including sometimes adopting the goal that, instead of coming in first, she should come in second.We also started establishing the ground rules that, while it was okay to get frustrated or mad, we could not keep playing the game while she was upset. We had to take a break, process our emotions, and come back to the game when we could focus on playing. This was a policy we continue to hold with any activity.Though the game is mostly up to chance, there is also limited way that players can occasionally help out one other player. These were moments for us as parents to model a positive response to situations where one of us was gifted a bonus and the other was not. Over time, Hazel herself became more comfortable with the idea that she would not always be the recipient of these bonuses and that this was okay and not something that she should feel bad about.
Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Unicorn Glitterluck Cloud Crystals:
Age: 5-years-old / 01/06/2018 / 4 years ago
Play Styles: Competitive In The Same Room and Child Plays with Parent Assistance (Assisted Play)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
One of the first console video games we played with Hazel was Mario Kart 8 on the Switch. Mario Kart is a series I played quite a bit of when I was younger, so it was an interesting co-play experience to play with Hazel, who was just starting to develop the skills to use game controllers and play more complex games. This is a game we continue to play to this day (as of this writing, Hazel is 8 years old). One strength of Mario Kart is its many options to support players of mixed skill levels. Not only can you choose to race on the same team, rather than competing, you can also activate a number of assistive settings on specific players to help them with steering and speed, and can adjust the overall difficulty of races including choosing tracks, length of rounds, difficulty of NPC racers, and overall speed of the karts. In addition the fact that a play session is a series of races, rather than a single, long race, means that there are lots of moments of "winning" and "losing," and plenty of chances to try again.All of this meant that we had lots of options to explore success and failure while playing Mario Kart together. To help Hazel experience easier success in the game early on, we played on the same team and used the assistive settings. As teammates, I would often play a somewhat defensive roll - my goal was to keep her in 1st place. As we played more, she started to become self-motivated to get better on her own. We explored other co-play patterns, including roleplaying "racing school" where I was "training" her to get better. This roleplay also extended to her learning to ride a balance bike in real life.
Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe:
Age: 7-years-old / 12/01/2020 / 2 years ago
Play Styles: Child Helps Parent Play (Associative Play) and Child and Parent Play Together (Cooperative Play)
Hyrule Warriors was one of the first games where Hazel was able to experience the full journey from unskilled novice to skilled player. The game is very much designed to make the player feel powerful. We came to this game after Hazel watched me play through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While Breath of the Wild was single-player, Hyrule Warriors has a robust two-player option. Hazel was very wary of playing solo in Breath of the Wild, though she did occasionally take the controller in that game. But overall, it was too stressful and challenging for her, particularly the combat. She wanted to play with more support. Hyrule Warrior was an alternative Zelda game set in the same world that gave us the ability to co-play cooperatively. With the support of the game's generous progression design, she relatively quickly became capable of playing as a fairly equal peer during our sessions.What is striking about Hazel's journey in Hyrule Warriors is that it did not just end with Hazel's successful mastery. Hazel's mom began to play the game too, but after Hazel and I had been playing for a while. This put Hazel in the position of being a more advanced player than one of her parents, and gave her an opportunity to be "the expert" helping to support a learning player. This was a new experience for Hazel and gave her a lot of satisfaction. It also allowed her to see someone else struggling through the process of improving a skill, and let her practice being supportive of that struggle. This experience, I think, gave her more compassion for her own learning journeys.
Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity:
Age: 8-years-old / 01/06/2021 / 16 months ago
Play Styles: Competitive In The Same Room, Child and Parent Play Together (Cooperative Play) and Child Plays with Parent Assistance (Assisted Play)
Santorini is a two-player competitive strategy board game, not unlike the feeling of classic chess, but with very simple rules. When Santorini first entered our household, Hazel was a little reluctant to play because she prefers to play cooperative games so initial plays of this game would sometimes involve her co-playing with me or her mom as one team, competing against the other parent. But both an increase in confidence to play on her own, and the reality that it's not always the case that both parents are available, have led to more game sessions where it is just her versus me. The striking thing about Santorini compared to other games we've played is that the entire game outcome is based on player choices and strategy. There is no chance. It's an analog board game so there's no game-driven events or non-player characters like in a video game. You are completely your own architect of your success or failure, and you are also the only loser when the other player wins. There have been times when Hazel has got frustrated in losing the game, but overall she has persevered and become a player that can honestly hold her own in a game against an adult. One way I nurtured that as part of our co-play was practicing reflection with Hazel during and after the game. We would discuss her moves or my moves, before or after making them, and exchange ideas on why that might or might not be a good strategic choice. This practice of joint-reflection helped to make it so she didn't feel alone in making decisions even when playing solo against me. It also encouraged her to see lost games as chances for learning and more time engaging with me one-on-one as a peer player.Santorini's board is a relatively small 5x5 grid and games take 20 minutes or less, so this keeps the games quick and makes it reasonable to play more than once, which also softens the blow of losing.
Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Santorini:
Age: 8-years-old / 01/09/2021 / 13 months ago
Play Styles: Cooperative In The Same Room and Child Helps Parent Play (Associative Play)
Overcooked! is a game whose design embraces failure as a central part of the experience. It's frenetic, high-stress, and difficult. It is also co-operative. This combination brought a whole new viewpoint to Hazel's journey in facing challenge and dealing with failure. We played Overcooked! 2 together as a family and what was striking about the experience is that none of us were very good at the game. This set Hazel up as a fairly equal peer player from the beginning of play. This is a game where we all were struggling together to figure out the best strategy and where we all legitimately had to work on our individual skills and teamwork approach in order to be successful together. While playing this game, Hazel got to see her parents dealing with the frustration of repeatedly losing and also practice strategies for reflecting on a team failure without getting frustrated with each other. I'll admit that we weren't always totally successful at modeling that as adults!
The culmination of the milestones in the pathway lead to Hazel a positive mindset on tackling hard challenges and dealing with failure. We have described it as a linear journey, but of course, there is always a fair amount of back and forth between the games they played.
Along with the main outcome Hazel also changed in the following ways:
We focus on how games contribute to this outcome, but also include related activities that play a part of this journey: