Jul 092012

Accepting your kid for who they are, or who they will become, is the biggest challenge of parenting, right?  Creating goals and expectations for them, explicitly or implicitly, is a recipe for disaster, yeah?  They are their own being, they should be able to do what they want to do, no?

I do just want Sal to be happy.  That’s my parenting goal.  I don’t care if he’s a successful artist or a struggling doctor, a chronic volunteer or a rat in a race.  As long as he’s happy and doing what he wants.  Happiness is elusive and constantly moving – many struggle to find it. So that’s all I wish for him – is to find it.

Of course, about that path to happiness, I’m slightly biased.  It goes against one of my management books that points out how as a manager, the traits and characteristics that lead to one’s success, does not necessarily apply to everyone else.  We all have different strengths and weaknesses and to manage properly is to adjust for everyone’s individual skill sets – instead of demanding they follow one’s own mold (came from a baseball management book that chronicled a manager who’s success as a player came from steals, so he forced his team to steal more, which they weren’t suited for).

I find programming skills helpful.  They’ve given me an avenue to express my creativity, they’ve kept me entertained for many years, lead to a lot of satisfying moments, and they have fed me well.

So of course, I think Sal should have some decent programming skills.  I think it’s easier to pick up other skills, if one has the foundation that disciplined programming gives you.  Programming makes you break things down, to pick out patterns, and once you start seeing them, you just can’t stop.  It will shape the way you view the world.

Even if he goes on to be an accountant, or a dancer, or a fisherman, I still think that having a mind trained for problem solving and pattern recognition will be an advantage.  I’ve tried to lead by example.  To show Sal that programs can be written to solve problems for us, to make our lives easier, to put a more practical spin on things so that he sees applications as more than video games.

It’s been an interesting journey.  First, I started with the competitive approach and tried to convince him to program because once you know how to program well, it’s easier to understand the AI that a video game utilizes.  But he was still struggling to come to grips with how own strategies for playing games, much less, trying to understand the strategy of others.

But then, we started talking about designing our own games.  And we would pick apart aspects of games we played and identified what we liked about them, and what we didn’t.  We started playing meta games, discussing the games at a higher level and he’s already feeling some of the excitement of playing a game he’s designed and built.

I think I’ve won the war – he gets it.  I’ve showed him how to use flags as variables to represent states in a game and he’s made that his own, by using different shades of red in the Gobo’s costumes.  We had an issue when the characters ran into each other and the bad guy ended up hurting himself because he ran into a Gobo (in any state).  I took a nap while Sal debugged that on his own.  He came up with states, but represented in the Gobo’s colors instead of as a variable (kind of abstract still). Darker red is a fighting Gobo.  Lighter red isn’t.  One color hurts more when you hit it.

“Plus, being more maroon-ish makes you look meaner!”

So that’s fantastic.  I should be completely happy.

Except for those sneaky goals and expectations that we’re not supposed to have.  His games lack a bit of strategy.  Not much choice in them.  Atari had their 40th anniversary a couple of weeks back (they are a few days older than I am) and they gave away their iPad games for free that day.  I downloaded a lot of them, to use as examples for Sal and I over the summer.  I figure he should be able to crank out games that were considered state of the art 40 years ago as a 7 year old today, right?

We implemented parts of Battle together.  Simple game.  Two guys moving opposite directions on the screen and they each have a bullet they can shoot at each other.  To make it more interesting, let them vary their speeds a little bit.  As simple as that game is, Walter and I used to play for hours.  Straight up duels.  Mind games.  Games so easy, you’re frustrated that you could lose such an easy game, so of course we need to play again.

But it had strategy.  It wasn’t just repetitive tapping to work your way through a ladder of achievements and (virtual) goals.  Carcassonne has many of the same qualities.  Simple game, lots of strategy, people taking very different approaches.  Sal told me he’d be more interested in playing Carcassonne if you could level up the Meeples.  If they could earn more hats, or outfits, or shields, or colors, or some other virtual goods, he’d be more into playing the game.

I’m hoping it’s just a phase.

But people rightly point out to me, that the more successful/popular games all have that customization aspect to it.  Farmville isn’t a strategy game, it’s a tap and collect game. Pokemon’s slogan tells you it’s a collector’s game.  There’s something to that type of game that is appealing, so it’s just natural that those would be the types of games Sal would want to make.  As you can see from the screenshot of the Gobo costumes, his have a wooden sword, a silver sword, a gold sword, and a platinum sword…

Those were other additions Sal made while I was napping. Updated: Here’s him describing the swords – platinum is my favorite.

So bless that little dude for getting up early on weekends and dragging me out of bed so we can go program together…I just need to get over the fact that his dream job might end up being at Zynga.

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