Dear Dave

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Toddler Wars!

Dear Dave,

As you'll know, one of the primary qualifications for being a housedad is a high boredom threshold. You have to be able to play Snakes and Ladders over and over again for several days, and not mind watching Nemo being found fifty times in a month. Of course, boundless energy allowing you think up and facilitate exciting new activities on a daily basis is a valid alternative but, for most of us, survival is a much more realistic objective. If the kids are happy, just go with it.

I've found many ways of coping with the tedium of a wet afternoon at home. For instance, encouraging a child to make the task in hand massively more complicated for me provides fantastic mental exercise. You should try it. Why bother with two-player Monopoly when three cuddly toys can join in? Play should not proceed clockwise but in alphabetical order of hair colour. Everyone should swap playing pieces after each game. Just attempting to remember whether to move the boot or the car next will keep you busy.

Another option is to put excess brain resources into critical analysis. Are the Teletubbies' favourite things an expression of their individual characters or part of the definition of those characters? In what way is Hungry Hippos a metaphor for life? If Pui and Sid from CBeebies got together, what would their children be like? Who decided Snakes and Ladders was fun? What does Tinky-Winky normally keep in his bag? Where's the nearest nursery? What do Fimbles taste like? Who clears up after Clifford the Big Red Dog? Why doesn't Wily Coyote order KFC? What bearing do the underlying suppositions of Scooby Doo have on our understanding of eschatological events? And why isn't it teatime yet?

This is fun but can become obsessive (and thus scary) after a while. You wake up screaming from Tweenies-inspired dreams where small children transform into puppets whenever they go outside. As for making things complicated, sometimes simplification is the way to go. Turns out toddlers can be persuaded to play Snakes and Ladders with imaginary dice which removes a great deal of the need for concentration. (It also allows things to be ended abruptly when sanity requires - "Look! Twenty-seven! I win.").

When boredom threatens, I normally just put my brain into neutral and let it wander wherever. This is usually nowhere very much, by way of Nicole Kidman, biscuits, the probable length of time it will take for the PS3 to halve in price, what to make for tea and whether, if I close my eyes for a second, I'll be able to open them again. Sometimes, however, inspiration strikes.

I was at parent and toddler the other day, drifting away to a make-believe amusement arcade where the games are free and chocolate digestives are served by Australian movie stars, when Marie gave me an idea. She was busy collecting a pile of toys in the corner of the room and screaming at any other children who went near them. "Mine! It's my trolley! You not touch it! It's mine!" Of course, while she was busy defending the trolley from one child, another would blithely sneak behind her and make off with a large plastic duck. Most parents might well have thought something along the lines of 'I should go and make her share,' but I know that's a waste of effort. I thought, 'There's a computer game in that...'

Think of it:

You are a pre-school general. Recruit a gang of under-fours by giving them toys covered in drool. Send them out to collect everything that isn't nailed down. Choose between devoting resources to protecting the loot or locating more. Set interfering grown-ups on your opponents. Slap opposing forces about with alphabet bricks; run them over in pedalled vehicles; put Play-Doh in their hair. Get allies to distract adults by climbing on piles of chairs and balancing precariously. Throw the toys into the pram (and make a run for it). Fight, cry and unexpectedly fall over. Unleash screaming tantrums. Rule the playgroup. Do it all in Toddler Wars!

Trust me, it's the way forward for strategy games. No more geek-pleasing space opera conflicts but a setting which people can relate to. Finally, AI where allies fail to do what they're told and enemies inexplicably walk into obstacles is no longer a bug but a feature. And then there's all the sequels: Seven-year-olds with Big Sticks, Buckfast Teenagers, Office Ambush, Mid-life Mayhem, Pensioners at a Jumble Sale and Zimmers at Dawn!

It's brilliant. Who says not enough sleep and too much Snakes and Ladders addles your brain? I'm off to write to the makers of Command & Conquer.

Hope you're keeping yourself entertained.

Yours in a woman's world,


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