I rarely review nonfiction, but when I was offered a review copy of UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone, I couldn’t resist. It’s a hard book to quantify—it’s part history, part game review, part rule book, and part hacker’s guide. It’s aimed at a child reader; there are sections called “Training Your Grownup” that offer advice for how to get parents, grandparents, etc. involved in playing games with you. My own kids are intrigued by the book, but when they were looking for something the two of them could do without preparation, they didn’t find much at a glance. I think they were distracted by the more involved projects and the ones that would have required the nicer weather they were craving! But they’re both interested in giving it a closer look at some point.
All kinds of games are included: video and app games, board games, card games, active games, social games, etc. My favorite part, though, is the focus on hacking games; in this context, hacking means adjusting and tweaking the rules to fit what the group you’re playing with finds fun. I think it’s important that kids learn that they have the power to change things, and making a game work better is a great place to start.
With lots of cartoony art work and boxes, it’s an easy book to skim through.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Can you spoil something that doesn’t have a plot? Probably not. But here are some things you might want to be aware of.
Adults Aren’t the Audience
The idea seems to be that you give your kid this book and then they can decide when and how to involve you in the games. There are some suggestions for making games appropriate for adults—like, don’t pull out your twerking moves when you’re doing a dance off with your grandma; save those moves for when you’re with your peers so you don’t give your grownup a heart attack. There are repeated reminders that if you’re under 13 you must have the permission of an adult before you do anything online. There are also repeated warnings to get your grownups involved when appropriate (like before you break out the power tools).
While I’m all for independence, there are a few things in this book I would really want my kids to do with my supervision—lots of the online stuff, for instance. Thirteen may be the legal age at which they can join some of these groups without an adult, but it’s not an age I’m comfortable with as a parent. There’s a Foursquare game, but I’m not sure I want my kids on Foursquare, and certainly not until we’ve looked into it and decided what seems like appropriate usage for them. There are a lot of games where you can check in with groups online, like geocaching type things. Again, I want to oversee my kids’ online interactions until I know the groups they’re interacting with. This isn’t a fault with the book at all, but certainly something you’ll want to be aware of before you hand the book to your kid and tell them to go have fun.
There are suggestions of good app games to play to keep in touch with people far away, such as long-distance grandparents. I like the focus on games being things that bring and keep people together, even across many miles.
Making Stuff From Scratch
There are games that include woodworking, making your own rockets, and baking. There are directions for making your own piñata, or making a board game from duct tape. While my kids are totally going to be into all of that, it’s the kind of thing you need to plan ahead for and make sure there’s good adult supervision.
Not computer hacking, but rules hacking. This is my favorite aspect of the book. It explains what it means to hack a game, demonstrates some ways to do it, and encourages it with suggestions of ways you might hack many of the games.
Then it makes a great jump to hacking life by looking at how parts of life are really like games, and if you can change a game to work better, why can’t you do the same in your little corner of the world? When it’s clear that the rules are unfair, how do you deal with that? Refuse to play the game? Work to change the rules? Make up a new game? It seems like a great approach to empower kids to grapple with the world around them.
Things Might Get a Little Creepy
In particular, the game Cruel 2 B Kind seems like it could get weird. The idea is based on the public assassin-type game where you don’t know who all could be playing the game, and the idea is to “kill” someone. However, in Cruel 2 B Kind, you win the game by being kind to the other players. The examples, though—blowing kisses or giving extravagant compliments—might seem more creepy than kind, especially if you do it to a stranger who isn’t playing the game. And half the fun of these games is not being certain who all might be playing. It’s easy enough to tweak these rules to suit your players, but remember that the book is aimed at a child reader and possibly a child moderator running the game.
There’s a wide variety of games, meaning there are things for people of all ages and abilities. The art reflects this, with a variety of ages, sexes, races, and abilities. They seem to be following through on the “Serious Fun for Everyone” tagline. There are also many female authors and contributors, making it clear that games are also for girls—a welcome explicit invitation in a climate that has too frequently been anything but welcoming.
This Is Just the Beginning
Throughout the book there are lots of links for more information, and at the end there are pages of Resources for more books and websites you might want to explore.
I think this is a great resource for any family with kids of any age. You’ll find ideas for younger kids, but it’s also great to hand to kids maybe 10 and up, as long as you make sure they ask you before they do anything online or start making anything. It rewards a closer read, because there are a lot of great small ideas tucked in among the flashy things like making your own rocket launcher—I think my kids got distracted on their first read through of it!
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone by Joshua Glenn & Elizabeth Foy Larsen
Published in 2014 by Bloomsbury
A companion to Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun
Read a paperback supplied to me by the publishers