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“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:

DetailsPathway Details

Name: Hazel Henning
Stage of Life: 4 - 8 years-old
Genres: Action, Brain Game, Fighting, Puzzle, Race, Strategy, Traversal and World Building
Platforms: Board Game and Nintendo Switch
 

 

First Failure

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.

Hazel got more comfortable with the idea that she didn't have to be the winner to enjoy playing the game. Hazel also became more open to the idea that other people might gain something she didn't, and that was ok.
Hazel learned to take a break when she was too frustrated or upset.

Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Unicorn Glitterluck Cloud Crystals:

Hazel and I were often building LEGO sets together. When we did sets, I would let her lead as much as possible. Again we followed the policy that if she was too frustrated, we had to take a break. I used our time playing Lego to reinforce the idea that if things went wrong, if she made a mistake, we could go back and fix them.

Practicing with Challenge

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.

Hazel could see and feel her improvement in the game, which made it a touchstone example of how practice helps you improve.
As Hazel got better at the game, she began to opt into more challenge by turning off assistive settings or racing directly against me.
Internalising the idea that you can get better at things ("Growth Mindset") is something I work hard to instill as a parent. Mario Kart was a great space for Hazel to experience this firsthand and really start to take on this belief as her own.

Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe:


Kiwi Co Kits
MAKING AND DESIGNING

In addition to LEGO, Hazel started engaging with other making activities like Kiwi Co. kits. These offered her self-contained projects, usually of something new she'd never tried before like building a crane or dyeing fabric, pitched a good complexity level to be challenging but still something she could mostly do on her own.
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Experiencing Mastery

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)

Platform: Nintendo Switch

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.

Hazel was able to experience the thrill of mastery of a skill.
Hazel had a chance to see one of her parents work to catch up to her skill level, illustrating the normalcy of the idea that mastery takes practice for everyone and is a normal part of achieving goals.
Hazel was able to take on the role of a teacher in the game and enjoyed the shift to more parity in playing games with her parents.

Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity:

Games weren't the only places Hazel was turning mastery into teaching. Around this time she was taking an online course on making clay dragons. As she became confident in her skills, she enjoyed teaching her family, friends, and classmates how to make these.
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Learning to Reflect

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.

Hazel feels it can be normal and worthwhile to spend time with others being introspective about past actions and outcomes.
Hazel gained experience thinking and talking about what led to success or failure for herself or others, and what she might learn from that moving forward.
Hazel believes she, and others, can learn and improve from failure.

Activities: Hazel found that the following related activities worked alongside playing Santorini:

Around this time, Hazel started watching sketchbook tours from one of her favorite YouTube artists. In these videos, the artist would go through old sketches and talking honestly about what they liked or didn't like about their older drawings; how they had seen their own skills develop and where they still felt dissatisfied with their ability.
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Handling Team Failure

Age: 8-years-old / 01/09/2021 / 13 months ago

Play Styles: Cooperative In The Same Room and Child Helps Parent Play (Associative Play)

Platform: Nintendo Switch

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!

Hazel experienced her parents as adults also get caught up in the frustration of failing at the game. She got to watch us try to channel our frustration into productive progress as a team in the game.
We all had to work to be encouraging to one another in the face of frustration, and to avoid blaming ourselves or each other for mistakes.
We were able to collectively experience improvement in success at the game by iterating on our group strategy together.

Pathway Outcome

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:

  • Behaviour: As Hazel got better at the game, she began to opt into more challenge by turning off assistive settings or racing directly against me.
  • Behaviour: Hazel learned to take a break when she was too frustrated or upset.
  • Belief: Hazel believes she, and others, can learn and improve from failure.
  • Belief: Hazel had a chance to see one of her parents work to catch up to her skill level, illustrating the normalcy of the idea that mastery takes practice for everyone and is a normal part of achieving goals.
  • Belief: Internalising the idea that you can get better at things ("Growth Mindset") is something I work hard to instill as a parent. Mario Kart was a great space for Hazel to experience this firsthand and really start to take on this belief as her own.
  • Disposition: Hazel feels it can be normal and worthwhile to spend time with others being introspective about past actions and outcomes.
  • Disposition: We all had to work to be encouraging to one another in the face of frustration, and to avoid blaming ourselves or each other for mistakes.
  • Disposition: Hazel got more comfortable with the idea that she didn't have to be the winner to enjoy playing the game. Hazel also became more open to the idea that other people might gain something she didn't, and that was ok.
  • Experience: Hazel gained experience thinking and talking about what led to success or failure for herself or others, and what she might learn from that moving forward.
  • Experience: We were able to collectively experience improvement in success at the game by iterating on our group strategy together.
  • Experience: Hazel was able to experience the thrill of mastery of a skill.
  • Experience: Hazel could see and feel her improvement in the game, which made it a touchstone example of how practice helps you improve.
  • Knowledge: Hazel experienced her parents as adults also get caught up in the frustration of failing at the game. She got to watch us try to channel our frustration into productive progress as a team in the game.
  • Relationships: Hazel was able to take on the role of a teacher in the game and enjoyed the shift to more parity in playing games with her parents.

We focus on how games contribute to this outcome, but also include related activities that play a part of this journey:

Taming Gaming Book Written by parents for parents, the database complements the in-depth discussion about video game addiction, violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. We are an editorially independent, free resource without adverts that is supported by partnerships.

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