Nintendo's Immersive Parenting Workshop: Yoshi's Crafted World
In response to the College Bribery Scandal, there has been a ton of press about the newest pop-culture parenting insult: snowplow parents. Before that they were called helicopter parents, and before that they were "attachment parents"- the name is always accompanied by a few crazy stories of parents calling in sick for their adult children at work, or parents arguing with college professors about their adult child's grade, etc. And not always about the adult children- for little kids it can be insisting on playing time in sports, advocating for a lead in the school play, or undermining a school administrator's consequences for bad behavior at school by sending in flowers to their child in detention. (That last is a real story told to me by an administrator at an elementary school.)
It's easy to criticize these parents, as the extreme examples create the impression that the extremes are representative of the whole, or the Fallacy of the Hasty Generalization. Who wouldn't agree that it is bonkers to call your child's place of work to ask for time off? Unfortunately, as parents, the choices that face us are not primarily at the extremes, easy to see the right or wrong of, but smaller, more localized choices: do we let them take a sick day when they are stressed out? What is one day off? Do we drop their homework off at school if they forgot to pack it? Do we try to make them feel better when they've had a tough day? Do we talk with the coach about playing time(politely) if we see that some kids are stuck on the bench in a young kids game? When are you advocating positively and when are you interfering negatively? Whatever the choice, as parents, we have to negotiate the math of cost/benefit for the choices we make, and because parenting is a learn-as-you-go endeavor, that can feel like our parenting life is one long chain of mistakes made at the expense of the people we love most: our kids. But Nintendo has an answer for that.
Not intentionally, of course. Nintendo's only intentional goal is to make adorable games that trap you in a time-hole from which the only escape is to master some combination of the A and B buttons. But my recent experience with Nintendo's Yoshi's Crafter World opened my eyes to a missed audience who could benefit from playing: Parents. Are you an experiential learner? Nintendo offers a chance to help you sort out the choices that face you in parenting- whether to intercede/help your child or not- through playing their game.
Most video games are based on a leveling-up model: the levels of the game start with simple skills, and as you master them, you level up until you confront the "Boss" challenge, where you have to combine the skills you practiced before. Each level becomes progressively harder until finally you reach the end of the game Boss, and when you defeat that Boss, you win the game! Yoshi's Crafted World is based on this model. (With all kinds of adorable and clever little details.)
Even though I grew up on Atari and considered myself decent at video games, I find I am thwarted by the more complicated A & B button moves of modern games(not to mention Z, R&L, and some other buttons I can't absorb), and when I realized I could utilize the "mellow mode" to play the Yoshi game, I was happy to ignore my children's derisive assessment that I was playing in "baby mode." Mellow mode meant I could fly indefinitely, not having to master the timing of jumps or how to accomplish a long jump(see A&B buttons). I didn't care that my kids thought it was a lame, I just wanted to have some fun. And it was fun. Until it really wasn't.
The problem was that because I could use my infinite flying to coast through the challenges in a level, I wasn't actually gaining any experience. I could make it through the Boss challenges in the beginning, but instead of being fun, they were stressful. And eventually I ran into levels where my baby-mode benefit of flying didn't actually matter, and I had none of the skills necessary to beat the level. That realization made me want to quit playing altogether. I literally wanted to throw down the control and quit in a huff- and I would have, if the controller wasn't so expensive. In that moment, I knew that my frustration was created by the "mode" making it too easy for me for too long. And that's when I realized Nintendo's secret gift to parenting.
If I parent that way, and put my child in "mellow mode" in their life, they run the risk of doing fine in the short term- having fun even- but finding themselves eventually faced with challenges they have no preparation for. And that is a terrible feeling. Try it. Play Yoshi in mellow-mode- experience the frustration for yourself in the virtual world. It has helped me rethink the fulcrum on which I considered how to parent: is my child facing a level they need to complete on their own? It isn't an all or nothing choice- Nintendo lets you swap modes at any time- but if you derive your fun from moving through the game- as I did when I stayed in the mellow-mode too long- then you never want to turn it off, and you give up when it no longer "makes" it fun. But if, instead, you turn off mellow mode and get your fun from mastering the skills and beating the level, then even though it is just a game, it is satisfying. And chances are you will finish the game- even the extra hard levels at the very end.
I know it might sound cheesy to draw life lessons from a video game, but when I remember how I felt when I hit the wall at Yoshi, I remind myself that I don't want to create that feeling for my child. They may still have that feeling- we all can find our own way to abuse the "mellow-mode"- but hopefully they will have enough skills to recognize what they are doing and instead of quitting, turn off mellow-mode and go back and do the work. Life is like a box of video games...Thank you Nintendo!
ps. My daughter talked me out of quitting, encouraging me to go back to the beginning and learn the game the right way. I'm on the third level. ;-)