Games and the perception of time

3527824296_e136e83b26_zAs a little kid, I had a lot of time to fill. Some of this was spent outside climbing trees, but eventually it gets dark or it rains or gets cold. Board games filled many hours of this time. I used to play Life by myself, altering the rules to make sure I got the high paid jobs (doctors and lawyers in the version I had) and to take into account my risk tolerance (low). These were the days before personal computers became quite as prominent — something that marked my adolescence, not childhood — and with television you were stuck with whatever was on, so there weren’t obvious ways to spend long hours beyond toys and games.

Kids still have a lot of time. They have the same 24 hours in a day as they’ve always had, and the school day isn’t (generally) longer. Only a small percent of children are in more than one activity, and — despite much ink spilled on the topic — they don’t get much homework either. But the perception is different, which is why I was interested to see an article in the Wall Street Journal last week on “Toys for Tight Schedules.

So called “snack toys” aim to fill small bits of time. “School-age children are increasingly playing in short bursts of time between organized activities — whether on the sidelines of a sibling’s soccer game or at home, between piano lessons and homework,” Ann Zimmerman writes. Faced with this situation, “Toy companies are working hard to maintain their market by refreshing traditional games and playthings to be shorter-playing, more portable and faster to clean up.”

So there are short versions of Scrabble and Monopoly. Neat-Oh Toys zip up into little carrying cases that you can bring with you for your family-on-the-go lifestyle.

But I don’t think any of this is about the larger social point the article hints at — look at how overscheduled our little darlings have become! Instead, I think this is 100% about the existence of easily consumable media and electronic games for kids. Time can now be filled with whatever show you want, on demand. I used to have to wait a year for the Wizard of Oz to come on TV (with no VCR you can’t tape it, and you better to go the bathroom during the commercials!). If my son wants to see any given episode of Dinosaur King, he just goes on the computer and loads it up. I don’t let the kids use my iPhone and we don’t have an iPad, but I know this is pretty common. My 6-year-old went to school this year and rode the bus — which definitely indoctrinates children in peer culture — and one day he came home and asked, “Wait, mommy, is your phone the kind that has games on it?”  (My answer: no).

If any bit of time can easily be filled with flashy shows and media consumption, then time seems to move faster. Why play 2 hours of Life when you can watch a Disney video in the comfort of your own home?

And then there’s the parents. I’m not sure parents have ever really enjoyed playing board games with young kids when there’s a million other things demanding your attention. Playing Risk could take days — which is probably why most people don’t do it. But a game that takes 3 minutes? That you’re willing to take on and, after all, it’s the parents who generally pay for games in the toy store (or order them online).

Do you play board games in your house?

Photo courtesy flickr user freeloosedirt

9 thoughts on “Games and the perception of time

  1. Boardgames (and card games) are much better now. The Eurogames are thrilling, and new American games have kept up. Wil Wheaton has his finger on the pulse of modern gaming here: .

    DC1 LOVES board games and will play by himself if someone else isn’t around to play with him.

    We haven’t tried any of the above 3 minute games, though we do have some shorter games to go along with the longer games (that take much less time than Risk).

    DC1 doesn’t seem as entranced with TV as I was growing up. I don’t know why that is. He does love video games and wishes he had his own ipad.

  2. Short answer: I play board games with my 9-year-old when we have “free” time at the same time, usually during the toddler’s nap.

    Longer answer: we have a one-activity-at-a-time policy. Gymanstics, swimming lessons, whatever. So my child is not “over scheduled.” And yet she leaves for school at 8:20 in the morning (if I drive her, earlier for the bus) and we’re not home until 5:00-5:30 at night on school days (she’s in an aftercare program, so plays both out and in there). That doesn’t leave her much time to do anything beyond dinner, bath, homework, lunch making, and, if she’s lucky, 30 minutes of TV, before ~8:15 bedtime. So I do see a time crunch, some of which has to do with my kids having a working (single) mom. They’re not home, like I was, at 3:30 in the afternoon.

  3. I LOVED board and card games growing up so that’s actually one thing I look forward to sharing with my son when he gets older. As for electronics, I’d love to keep him away from glowing screens as long as possible, but my mother-in-law things it’s adorable to watch a toddler swipe an iPad, so I’m sure it will happen before I’m ready.

  4. This is similar to our schedule, and ours are really little (in daycare) and do NO activities on the weekdays. so its not “overscheduled” so much as just not having much free time at home given the restrictions of having working (out of the home) parents. I feel the time crunch myself, and try to fight the feeling by being flexible about going to work time and bedtime so it doesn’t seem like a constant military march through the routine of the day.

  5. “Only a small percent of children are in more than one activity”

    Really? What is that based on? Nearly every kid I know is in more than one activity, and I’m not talking from super busy go-go-go families. Obviously anecdotal, of course, but most people, including kids, have more than one interest, after all! 🙂

  6. We play some board games- we have some that the whole family (even the 3 year old) enjoy, like Zingo. My 6 year old also played some games at her after school care. She particularly liked Connect Four. She was disappointed to discover that her father is harder to beat in that than her friends were!

    1. @Cloud – Kids do play games at day care and after school care, which might be relevant to some of the issues discussed in the above comments. Just because parents and children aren’t together doesn’t mean that the kids don’t have time they’re filling. If I remember from our day care days, it was pretty much free play after 4 pm, so the kids getting picked up around 6 had some time to fill. Of course, they didn’t have TV readily available in center care, so that probably made games attractive for the same reasons as kids in the 70s and 80s…

  7. My kids do. We do not have cable, the tv is downstairs with the mice and spiders, and we limit computer time. So they play Clue, Life, Monopoly, Scrabble and Wits and Wagers

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