Thursday, 28 April 2011

Parenting Game

I've begun working on a parenting game recently. When I say 'working', I mean I came up with the idea and I've starting thinking about how it could be done. Some of this thinking I've done online and some of my friends on Gameful have already helped with some feedback and good ideas.

So here's my pitch:

One of the areas of life that could benefit from an added layer of gamification could be parenting. Parents often feel daunted, pressured, criticized, insecure, or indecisive, not to mention under-appreciated both by other adults and society, and by their own kids! Even though being a parent is one of the most intrinsically rewarding things one can do, it isn't always fun.

Specifically, I'd like the game to address the problematic ideal of the 'perfect parent'. Whether that ideal is imposed on us by others (the proverbial mother-in-law), by 'society' or by ourselves, it is by definition unattainable. Nobody is ever perfect. The goal many parents set themselves is unattainable and demoralizing. In games however, every goal is achievable and every quest is possible.

Another problem with parenting is that often, the feedback comes late, if ever. For example, it takes 18 years of parenting before your little one gets accepted into the university of their dreams. And is that even the right measure of a good parent? In games, there is constant clear and positive feedback. In WoW, every new area you explore, every herb you pick, every troll you slay gives you experience points.

In parenting, failure is a huge taboo. Failing even on only certain aspects makes parents feel like 'bad' parents. If I struggle to teach my child to read, I am a "bad parent". But gamers fail all the time. Epicly. And yet, that doesn't make them bad gamers. Back to my first point: in games every goal is achievable, so even though failure is common, it is not demoralizing. A gamer who fails, reloads or respawns and has another go, if necessary with help and support from other gamers.

Disclaimer: Nobody says parenting has to be fun all the time. That would be an irresponsible and self-centred attitude. The goal of the game is to provide a framework for positive parenting and support parents to feel more confident and possibly be more pro-active as parents by suggesting 'quests'. This game could in no way fix real problematic families, but it can be a helpful tool for most ordinary families. When referring to making failure okay, that would never refer to true bad parenting such as abuse or neglect but to small and common failures that cause feelings of guilt but do no real harm or can be easily corrected.

Game design and game elements:

Parents would rate their performance mostly as separate from their children's progress. Real life already rewards successful potty training both practically and socially. This game would focus on rewarding sticking to the training while it is not successful yet. Parents with rowdy children would amass more points in behaviour management than parents with sedate children, because they put in more work (even if the resulting behaviour is still less 'good' than other children might be). The more obstacles a parent faces well, the more points there are to be had.

A parenting quiz
The game would set quests for parents. Ideally, these quests would be tailored to the parenting style and developmentally appropriate to the child(ren). This could be determined by initially setting up a profile based on a questionnaire, roughly dividing parents into different types (similarly to being different races and classes in RPG's). As they progress through the game, their profile would become increasingly personalised based on their responses and situation.

Experience points and levels would be earned by completing quests and tasks. The reward system should provide frequent and meaningful feedback. There could be real-world rewards that really form part of the game as well, for example you could 'win' a night out with your partner. If you play as an extended family or in a group, babysitting could be exchanged!

Players should be able to create content, such as quests, both for themselves and for others. Socializing should be encouraged where parents can form temporary groups to overcome a specific obstacle (like pick-up groups for a raid) or can form permanent alliances for ongoing mutual support and group activities (like a guild or clan). Ideally, the game would lead to the gamers producing fan-content such as wikis and strategy guides to share with others.


A small and achievable starting game could be a form of parenting-nonsense bingo. Every time you encounter a stupid, false or demoralizing common phrase or comment, you get to log it and claim points. This can also trigger the first discussions about parenting facts, tips and tricks.
Requirements: game-testers, a list of bingo-phrases, a website with secure sign-ins, profile pages, and a discussion forum, a points counting system, a leaderboard.

Starting out on Facebook has been suggested. That sounds good as people already have a sign-in and a profile, and they're used to playing games and sharing information. But how does one build it?

I've never designed a alternate reality game and parenting is certainly not the least complex subject I could have picked. I am opening this up for discussion and offers to help. Any game designers, web designers, artists, parents, etc. Please comment and lets make a game!

Interesting link

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