The Gassy Gnoll: Cultivating a Beginner Mind (Teach Your Kids to Game Week)

Where were you the first time you were introduced to a role-playing game? What game was it? Could be any game and could have been anywhere. For me, it was Dungeons & Dragons at my friend Jayson’s house on a Saturday afternoon in 1982. I believe I played with Bob, Jayson, Dwight, and Sean quite a few weekends over the next three years. There were no constraints, no preconceived notions of what gaming *was* — just wild imaginations, dice, books, and paper. My life hasn’t been the same since.

So where were you? What did you play? What did it feel like?

Why am I asking?

Two reasons. First, because we owe the next generation the chance to explore their imaginations in a safe environment, allowing them to play free in a time in which frankly it’s scary to let your kids out of your sight sometimes. And second, because it’s an amazing way to find your way back to that beginner mind – that place where we can tap into raw imagination and hopefully keep our inner editors or experts at bay for a time.

Role-playing as a Safe Haven for Kids to be Kids

Let’s explore the first part. I have two daughters – ages 7 and 11. They’re growing up fast. And as a parent, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m disappointed by the world they find themselves growing up in. In my own childhood, I was able to roam the neighborhood with the worst thing I could dread was falling off my bike and skinning a knee. Today we turn on the news and hear of shootings, kidnappings, and worse – happening not far from our own doors. It’s scary to be a grown up, let alone a kid.

I feel like I owe them a place where they can be children and cast off those fears for a while.

That safe place for me is with games… Around a game board, a map, or even a set of dice or deck of cards, there are rules. Within that shared setting we can open ourselves up to strategies, creativity, teamwork, competition, fun and who knows what else. Games open up a world of possibility and can even encourage educational pursuits in literature, math, cartography, art… The possibilities are endless. Plus, in an age where we’re bombarded with TV and video games, it’s also good to unplug and use our imaginations from time to time.

Lastly on this point, let me just say that playing these games as a family adds another whole dimension to the equation. It’s amazing to see my kids create and improvise on the fly when we play together. We’re not relying on anything but the shared experience we have together, which in turn helps bind us together. Ultimately gaming is about communication – something we can always use a bit more of.

Recapturing your Beginner’s Mind

So let’s jump now to my other point… Leo Babuta’s site Zen Habits is an amazing resource if you’re interested in applying Zen concepts to a modern world. Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen wrote an article a few years ago about “How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner’s Mind.”

Without diving into Zen Buddhism, “beginner’s mind” is all about approaching life without fear of failing. As aging gamers, some of us have learned tricks and things to avoid failure over the years (among my favorite tips: be sure to check for traps, don’t charge blindly into dark rooms, and always look up). But when you watch new gamers start for the first time, they have to learn those things all over again and it’s amazing.

By teaching my kids to play games, I myself am finding that I see those same games through a fresh pair of eyeballs. Sure, the old jaded gamer is there too. But sometimes I can grasp that beginner spirit when I see it in the eyes of my daughters and get taken along on a fantastic ride. Imagine capturing those first few years of gaming one more time and keeping your inner child healthy and alive!

It’s Too Good Not to Share…

Please share our hobby with your kids. Maybe they’ll decide it’s not for them and that’s their choice. But show them how fun it can be to explore an imaginary world, save the princess, kill the monster, and emerge victorious — all without a video game controller in their hands. If they see YOUR passion, maybe some of it will rub off and you’ll have one more thing you can share with your kids for the rest of your lives.

I hate sounding like a greeting card, but…

Teach your kids to game, but do it for more than a week – try it for a lifetime. You’ll all benefit in the end.

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