I’m not much of a formal game player, not like my husband or many of my friends. There are some board games I enjoy but what I like best is the chatting we do around the play of the game. I do like games, though. Instead of formal games, I like to make a game out of things I have to do. I make games out of tasks and situations that otherwise could be pretty annoying.
I was thinking about this today as I was driving to the grocery store. I have recently started doing the grocery shopping alone on a weekend evenings. Usually I wait until my daughter is in bed. My husband stays home with her and I tootle off to one of the local grocery stores to pick up what we will need for the next week. I have found that my concentration and decision making are much better when I am not also coping with a bored, squirming toddler. And I’ve turned the process into a game. I pick a target amount of money and I try to make choices so that the bill comes out under that number. While I’m shopping I’m keeping a running tally in my head (rounded off to the nearest 5 cent increment) so I keep track. I look at options and sometimes swap out choices or even decide I don’t really need something and put it back. To “win” the game I need to do two things; first I want to be within $5 at the checkout of my own estimate (the grace is because I am not figuring out tax as I go along), and second I want to be under my target amount. The prize, if I can win 3 weeks in a row, is that I get to spend all the money I was under on a special treat for my family – something really delicious that we normally wouldn’t purchase. Then the cycle starts over.
Okay, so that sounds pretty nerdy and goofy, I know. But it makes the task of keeping our grocery bill within budget into something a little bit more fun, which is the whole point of making a game out of things. I’ve noticed I make a game out of other things too. In really bad traffic I try to get the perfect distance and slow speed behind the car in front of me so that I can move for longer stretches without actually stopping. This is harder than you might think, particularly since I drive a stick shift vehicle. The goal of the game is to avoid having to hit the brakes while still driving safely. I don’t have a prize for this game, particularly, but it does occupy my mind and help me feel calmer in traffic. Moving smoothly, even at a slow pace, is just more rewarding for me than having to stop and start and stop and start.
I also tend to make a game out of exercise. I am the excessively obsessive compulsive person who tends to log things like minutes and miles and so the game will become can I create a streak of hitting a certain target – for example, 20 minutes a day for 30 days? 2 miles every other day for 20 times in a row? For this game I will often reward myself with a few dollars per achieved milestone. I use the money to buy something I want that I would normally consider too expensive or extravagant (a new TV set, a GPS watch when they first came out and were very costly, my current wish is an iPad so I am saving up for that). If you think about it, a lot of weight management programs are arranged on this principle. They give you a target for exercise or for points and then encourage you to hit the target while recording honestly your actual food intake and activity level.
Turning tasks into games works on my daughter to some extent, too. If I tell her something is a game she is much more likely to participate. So, for example, we might play a cleaning up game. Or we might play an eat two bites of everything on your plate game (with a cookie reward if she can do it). The key thing is to label it as a game, to give it a goal and rules and if possible a prize to increase motivation. I am excited to find more things we can turn into games as she becomes more sophisticated in her thinking. This evening, for the first time, I heard her make up her own game. It was an open and shut game she played with her thermos cup. She would open and shut the thermos and then pass it off to myself or my husband. During our turn we would also open and shut the thermos and then pass it back to her. Pretty simple, obviously, but I was pretty pleased to realized my two and a half year old had just made up a simple game with simple rules and taught it to us. She is truly the child of her parents.