Creative play can always be what you want it to be
Adventure is always at your doorstep, it’s only a matter of mindset. As a kid, I always played a lot of make pretend. I never meant it to be a way to escape from the real world, it simply was a means of letting my imagination run loose and to satisfy my creative mind. As most kids, a good part of my play was informed by the tv shows I watched, the books I read, the games I played and the films I experienced. They were recreated, altered or reshaped to my will and took me to either far away places where anything was possible or to life-like settings that made me re-live my heroes’ adventures as the main lead.
The other day, my 9 year old son asked to play Dungeon! with me. Even though it isn’t the most original board game in terms of gameplay, it’s always refreshing to get back to it for a quick game with the kids. My boy’s favourite part of the game - besides crawling the dungeon looking for monsters to slay and collect loot - is that we use Lego minifigs to represent our character. While he was waiting for me to join him, he set up the board and proceeded to create a new character for this session. His latest reading obsession is with his older sister’s Percy Jackson books. It informed the look of the said character quite a bit. As you can see, the Poseidon-like trident is not a coincidence.
By the time I sat down, he was ready to go – although I did have to request that he leave the panther at the entrance of the dungeon, for practical reasons. I took a minute to grow my character a beard and equip him with a mace and a shield. This time, I was going to play a cleric. My son decided to face the darker and more dangerous parts of the game as a fighter.
Bad rolls and misfortuneMy cleric fared relatively poorly against certain foes. Strangely enough, a relatively tough zombie in particular sent me back to the Great Hall twice. This added to the drama of the boy losing half his loot as I was about to reach my own quota, necessary to win the game. In the end, it was a close call but I had to watch the competition reach the finish before I could.
Then, it was time to get supper ready. We packed up the game but the characters’ adventures continued as my son was now imagining another one for them to take part in. He didn’t turn the TV on, the iPad remained on the shelf and he did not drop everything to play on the Switch as he often does at that time of day. Adventure doesn’t wait when you are part of it and at that very moment, he was where he wanted to be most: in another world created by his own imagination!
As I have mentioned before, games of all kinds have always been a part of my life. They provide a place to grow and learn as much as other intellectual or physical activities do. They are a necessary complement to academics, sports, music and arts. Being able to share play with others only reinforces its benefits and it’s refreshing to see how kids so easily mix and match things simply because they can. It’s important to remind yourself that, in fact, anyone can.
In the case of the Dungeon! meets Lego, it’s a good example of how many learning activities can be bundled together in one fun package. My son combined the creative aspect of building blocks with the linear mechanics of a simple board game to enhance what eventually turned into a role play activity. I am very thankful that my kids have always responded to stimulus that triggers imaginative play purely for the sake of play. This enables them to always make do with what is at their disposal. Be it a game of hangman at the restaurant or him having to play the princess and her the knight in shining armour because of the sizes of the respective costumes! At times these games help them cope with a situation, at others they find themselves learning new math concepts without realizing it. It can be educational but it doesn’t have to be.
A long holiday
Soon, the summer will be upon us and since we are not looking to go anywhere far, my wife and I are starting to come up with ideas to keep everyone busy - and sane - for 9 weeks! Nova Scotia is a big playground during that time of year and our kids love being outside more than anything else. One thing I vividly remember from my youth, and it still applies today, is how being outside and in contact with nature stimulates my creativity.
How much I will streamline the rules to make digestible for the younger players remains to be seen but, back in the day, we always used to play games that focused a lot more on storytelling than game mechanics. Another aspect of the game that I will use to my advantage is the use of Lego and minifigs instead of miniatures and terrain. Not because I don’t like miniatures (I actually happen to love them and did a fair bit of model making as well as a teenager) but because I believe that the use of construction blocks the kids are familiar with will reinforce the notion that, with role playing games, the only limit is your imagination.
Use, re-use and use again
Another reason for me to use Lego is that we have a fair amount of it and that I won’t have to buy more just for this activity. This goes back to making do with what you have. My parents somehow managed to keep all the Lego my brothers and I had as kids. Eventually, decades later, it came back to me for the benefit of my children (and me!). For our D&D game nights, all of it will be thrown into the mix, old and new, to create yet more adventures filled with imaginary places and creatures!
Until next time, be well and remember: why you play is more important than what you play!