Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lily and the Brain Chain

Lily wanted me to tell everyone about a game she had invented. But first, a story!

I was playing Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, with Lily, and it's certainly a game that will warrant its own post. It started out being distinguished only by its design and the execution of its story, and then branched out to zillions of fun little subsystems. Like a number of video RPGs, it has a casino area where you can wager some form of currency that isn't available elsewhere, to exchange for items that aren't available elsewhere.

It features slot machines, blackjack, an arcade game and card game that I believe that was invented for the video game. It's called Platoon, and each player is dealt ten cards from a poker deck, which he or she must divide into five piles. Each card is worth its face value, except for kings, which automatically win against anything except for an ace, aces, which automatically lose (but beat kings), and jokers, which swap your hand with your opponents. The rules are pretty simple, but there's a decent amount of strategy.
In your face! (The computer gets unbelievably snotty when it wins)

Lily spent all afternoon trying to master that small and trivial subsection of a video game. I shudder at the knowledge that this displaced, but we had some interesting conversation about it. Lily wondered if we were really playing against another person somewhere on the internet, and if they saw us as the dealer. Later on she concluded that this must be the case, because if we were really playing against the computer, it would just deal itself a winning hand every time. I pointed out the flaw in her reasoning, (that sooner or later, the player would figure it out and stop playing with the computer), but I liked that she tried to reason things out with the facts available to her. I've often said that kids aren't that far behind adults when it comes to straight up problem solving; they simply have a smaller pool of experience to inform it.

I'll take a little bit of credit for this. I'll ask her open-ended questions, and follow up with "Why?" in order to get her articulate her reasoning, which is something I find useful myself, as part of the process of trying to determine how I came to a particular conclusion.

I see that she's internalized this, because she was the discussion leader at school recently, where she guides the discussion and asks the other little kids questions about the story they're reading. Lily's questions were open-ended, what-do-you-think-will-happen-next questions, but the teacher was looking for a line of inquiry more along the lines of what had happened previously in the book. "What did Jim have for lunch?" "Why was he late for school?"

I'm torn. On one hand, I think Lily's kind of questions are more illuminating, particularly if she follows up with "Why?", as you can't make a good prediction about what's going to happen without having a solid grasp about what has happened. On the other hand, most kids that age aren't ready for that level of reasoning, and perhaps more importantly, that's not what she was asked to do.

We were talking about detention, and I asked her what she knew about it, and she said it's when you're forced to stay after school and you can't do anything but sit there and do your homework. I told her that sometimes you can't even do your homework, because it's supposed to be a punishment and the idea is that you shouldn't be able to derive any benefit from it. She told me that she likes sitting alone at her desk, because she can play a game of her own devising, which she calls Brain Chain. She'll find something in the room, and chain associations with it. "Oh, that poster of a castle reminds me of Tangled which reminds me of Grammy Kathy because we saw the movie in Florida which reminds me of cooking, because Grammy Kathy is such a good cook, which reminds me of Wacky Wednesday because I make pancakes on the griddle, which reminds me of Valentine's Day, because I'll sometimes put chocolate chips in the pancakes and people give out candy on Valentine's Day, which reminds me off..."

I used to play similar games when I was bored, and I'm more interested in her thought processes in coming up with the game than I am in the specifics of it. Two things impressed me. The first was how cleanly she was able to articulate the rules to Jen after she had explained it to me. She didn't ramble, as people often do when explaining something, but rather she laid it out clearly, in logical order, providing specific examples to illustrate her points. The other thing was how enthusiastic she was. She had invented this thing completely on her own, and she was so excited and wanted to share it with people she loved. That's one of the things about Jen with which I first fell in love, and I'm glad it passed on to Lily. There's so much of me in her temperament that it's nice to see that she inherited some of Jen's good traits too.

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