What games do “normal” families play? If you watch commercials, you get a sense that you should have a family game night each week and pull out a trusty board game. One of those all time favorites that lack strategy, challenge and have more randomness than the local lottery. If your chance of winning is solely random or based on your ability to gain properties that have the highest likelihood of your opponents landing on them, congratulations: you will have games collecting dust on the shelf for many years to come.
Most board games become bored games real quick.
Strategy games are the only ones which aren’t completely random and where learning patterns generally won’t help. They have a strict set of never changing rules but for the most part take a long time to play. I played a single game of chess over the period of 2 years. Risk may be the best choice for multiplayer strategy, if you are willing to play the same game all day long. If there was only a game with strategy, a bit of randomness, and the ability to break the rules that everyone could enjoy, that would be great. I’ll get to that in a moment and tell why it’s important.
Our family isn’t normal. I know, no one's family is normal. But we break the norms in so many ways with both kids having special needs. This includes learning and reading challenges, as well as epilepsy that can’t be controlled medically. Every good parent wants what is best for their children, even if it means quitting a high paying “dream” job to spend every moment giving them the personal help they need. How do you help a boy with dyslexia who gets upset when he can’t read and it triggers a seizure? How do you teach a girl who has no problem with Algebra but can’t understand basic addition and subtraction?
You need a little bit of Magic.
It’s time to think creatively and break some societal standards. I know my kids have issues, but they still need to learn life. I won’t be around forever to take care of them and I am going to use every tool I can to help them be the best they can become. Magic: the Gathering has been the catalyst for learning in their lives. It’s a game with strategy, a bit of randomness, and the ability to break the rules that everyone can enjoy.
Learning Through Gaming
We were pleased to find that my son with dyslexia has no problem reading Magic cards. The combination of font type and size is no problem for him to read. My daughter can now understand basic math when applied to life totals and counters on creatures. These are great accomplishments, but that’s just the beginning.
It’s well known that it is much easier to learn when what you are learning is fun and engaging. How can a simple card game even come close to everything they would need in life? Time to expand the curriculum.
There are some pretty strange words in Magic: the Gathering, but most are based on often used Latin roots. This association helps in the understanding of the many new words they encounter in life. The frequent stories published about the lore of the game are both exciting and engaging. And the art on the cards isn’t just for quick identification. The study of art helps improve performance in other subjects.
We've also expanded play of the game into learning social etiquette. It’s difficult for kids with mental challenges to associate with others, especially strangers who are much older and bigger. Friday Night Magic gives them the ability to talk to people of all sorts and backgrounds. And watching the Pro Tour allows for discussion of cities and countries along with how you would get there, what currency would you use and most importantly, what foods you would expect to eat.
Young Mage Business
But we stepped it up even more. You may have seen my son’s YouTube Channel MTG_YoungMage.
This was initially started because we didn’t see any dedicated content for new or young players. We easily found a lot of high end card analysis, deck techs and reviews, but nothing that spoke to younger players and their interests. Creating content by a kid for kids was something that needed exploring. This is a lot more difficult than it seems, but what did this give us for curriculum? A lot.
Arguably one of the most important skills in life is communication. This is also a particular challenge with many special needs kids. Communicating your ideas, needs and goals clearly will get you farther than someone that has a lot of book knowledge, but can’t make connections. This was my problem after college. I knew everything, just couldn’t get my ideas across so anyone would listen. With my kids, I want them to work more on communicating well than being an “expert.”
Besides the obvious writing and research requirements of making content, Young Mage is a business. Everything you need for business is part of the daily workings. Many schools have youths pretend to be business owners in Middle School or High School. This usually lasts for about a week, maybe two. But a real business that has real potential can teach so much more.
I know most people hated learning fractions and percentages in math, but when that is tied to your audience and even revenue, it becomes much more interesting. Analyzing data to determine the best content to produce, when it should be released and how it should be presented may be the second most important skill in life. Our lives are filled with products and services to help one another.
The most important lesson of all is failure. There is a lot of failure in life. There is a stigma about failure. “It’s a bad thing that should be avoided.” The opposite is true; it’s the number one way we learn. Our ability to fail and learn quickly from failure helps us to develop. I see so many people beating themselves up for making a mistake. They waste time and resources making themselves feel bad and in a lot of cases trying to gain sympathy from others. I don’t teach that. I told both of my kids that when we play Magic, I’m going to play to the best of my ability. I’m not going to let them win. I don’t do this out of some sense of superiority, but out of love. I want them to learn and you don’t learn from people letting you win all the time.
Now they are winning a lot more games.
Magic the Gathering is all about solving problems quickly and efficiently. Life is all about solving problems, failing and learning. There’s a meme that says, “Teach your kids Magic and they won’t have money for drugs.” I think we need to focus on “Teach your kids Magic and they will be ready for life.”