Video Games – Teaching Children to Fail

My son just turned six years old earlier this week. He loves video games. They are his passion. We have to limit his time or he would do nothing but play them. He knows how to play the games. In some cases, better than I do, and I have been playing video games for thirty plus years. I find his ability to learn, amazing. I began to wonder how he was able to become so proficient with these games even before he learned to read. Games are story driven these days. You would think learning the plot & storyline would be necessary for success, but it isn’t.

When I started playing, video games were different. We didn’t have save points. You couldn’t resume from where you left off or a checkpoint. You had to sit there for a grueling video game session to get to the boss. And there was no way to win the game. There were just levels increasing in difficulty until no mere human could keep up (I’m talking about you Kaboom). And, if your character ran out of lives then you had to start all over again. Hours of progress to get to a certain point – gone. If you had to start all over again, well, you might decide to do something else for a while. We HATED running out of lives/chances because of the consequences. In some ways we were afraid to fail.

Today, there are some similarities, but the differences are vast. Now, you can save your game progress at multiple points throughout the experience. You can fit in a 15 or 20 minute session if you have a few moments to spare. And because of this, you essentially have unlimited tries to succeed in your quest to save the princess, slay the dragon, free the world, or make it home safely. Unlimited.

As I watched my son play his games, something became increasingly clear to me. He has NO fear of failing. None. He just starts again from his last save point & continues on until he learns the skill or timing sequence needed to progress. He is still competitive. He still dislikes it when he doesn’t get past a certain point or doesn’t beat a boss. However, I observed him exploring scenarios in the games where the point was nothing other than to learn how the game works. He expected to lose a chance/life/turn so he could deconstruct the system in which he was involved.

It was a real paradigm shift for me. I suddenly could see he was learning to fail, but with purpose. Unafraid of the consequences he explored & thought about his challenge in an unusual however productive way (in my corporate life, we call that thinking outside the box).

I battle fear of failure daily. I never want anyone to perceive me or anything I’m associated with in a poor light. So silly or stupid sounding questions go unasked. Creative thoughts are abandoned because they are or could be considered too far outside the box. I know many of us struggle with it. I also know my boy may not struggle with it as much as I do because he’s learning failure is part of success. If we can remove the stigma we have in our brains toward failure, just think about what we can do.

That’s right plain ordinary dragons – anything – the choice is yours.

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