Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The 2020 that Might Have Been

 “These so-called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.”

David Lynch

The insanity of the year 2020 certainly gives me cause to reflect on what could have been if the pandemic hadn’t completely disrupted life as we know it. Contemplating these lost experiences helps me comprehend the scope of our sacrifice and look forward to appreciating them that much more should the post-covid future allow us. Among the canceled vacations, game conventions, family gatherings, summer camps, blockbuster film premieres, and routine excursions to relieve real-world stress – disappointments no doubt shared by many – is one gaming opportunity I’d anticipated immensely, one that might still develop and flourish once America learns to responsibly deal with covid-19. But for now it languishes with the “might have beens” of 2020. I’d long planned to develop a “Wargaming History” talk for the local museum and had finally met with the director to pitch it, even had it scheduled on the calendar, when the pandemic shut everything down.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Games for Learning

 Reinforce Lessons, Inspire Curiosity

Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.”


The apparent drudgery of schoolwork – even online as a result of America’s hellscape response to the covid-19 pandemic – reminds me of the important role games play in learning...one often overlooked in the official academic bureaucracy of standards of learning, state-endorsed policies, and administrative procedures. Our full-time online distance learning school year began toward the end of August; already the lament of “Why do I need to learn this?” has begun. As dad I get to supervise academic activity and enforce schedules, deadlines, and long-term projects, sort of an unpaid proxy teacher’s aid. It took about three weeks for the lessons to ramp up to something approximating full-steam, with two or three online class meets per day, a host of online exercises and resources (some game-like), and lots of prodding to stay on target academically within the lax environment of one’s own home. This year’s teacher impressed us with his ability to port his live classroom experience to an online format; though we regret our son can’t really enjoy this first-hand in a traditional classroom environment. Nonetheless I still wish schools integrated more games for learning to reinforce lessons and inspire curiosity beyond the bounds of even a virtual classroom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Horrifying Pandemic Halloween

Pretty much how I
feel about Halloween.
I’m not a huge fan of Halloween. Oh, sure, as a kid I loved it, mostly because we focused on creating fun costumes and wandering through the neighborhood collecting candy. But as an adult – especially seeing how some of Halloween focuses on the grisly, ghoulish, and outright horrific – I have little stomach for it. I bear much of it because the holiday remains important for my wife and son; our basement storage bins of Halloween decorations and kitsch rival our boxes of decorations for the yuletide holidays; and the subject of “What costume can I demand Mommy make me this year?” remains a prominent thought for my son as soon as school begins. So I grin and bear the Halloween season and its host of required traditional activities. Yet the pandemic challenges us this year to celebrate in a different, safer way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Games for Learning: Sol O.P. Grand Prix

I’ve long been an advocate of introducing the adventure gaming hobby to kids and newcomers. I feel strongly that games can enrich our lives beyond their basic entertainment value. For a while I’ve hoped to engage with kids and educators about enhancing learning, reinforcing lessons, and encouraging a sense of curiosity through games. I’ve tried a few times to create games suitable for younger players: Panzer Kids, Valley of the Ape, even the solitaire Lord of the Two Lands. So when I realized my son needed help with his multiplication tables, I started thinking how I might turn a learning experience into a game. (I hated multiplication tables when I was in elementary school and it started a lifelong dislike of math.) But when the pandemic hit everything was canceled during America’s subsequent hellscape response. Including school. So my son’s teacher never had a chance to solidify his multiplication and math skills, teach much about Virginia in the American Civil War, or cover the solar system so kids could do the obligatory project for the canceled science fair. With the new year starting we’re facing more than challenges from full-time distance learning online...we’re dealing with having lost an entire quarter of his previous year’s learning, further diluted with a tedious summer without many of the usual summertime diversions. So I designed a game to help with math.