My last article celebrated the benefits of regularly forcing kids to “make do” with limited resources—in play and in school (and by extension, in life in general). I believe that sometimes you don’t know your own ingenuity until you’re forced to tap into it.
I mentioned that sometimes a person’s future career could even be stimulated by early “deserted island” activities. For me, I was always inventing games as a kid—with whatever I had at hand. Maybe it was the coins in my dad’s pocket, the books on a relative’s coffee table, or the paperclips and pencils in the meeting room at my mom’s work. Making do with whatever I could find made me realize that the world is full of things designed for one purpose that can be creatively used for another. It also convinced me how fun it is to just plain make things up.
So now I’m a game designer, and my first game is all about making do. It’s a card game called Call It A Day.You play by using the hand you’re dealt (literally and figuratively) to make up stories. Each round, you randomly pick a card that defines the character you’ll play for that round—your Alias. You might be something normal like a bus driver, something unusual like a mountain climber, something fantastical like a wizard, or something extinct like a dinosaur.
Next you select a bunch of Activity cards that tell you what you’ll be doing in your story (a “day” in the life of your character). Like the Aliases these range from the ordinary (checking email) to the extraordinary (fighting a giant sea monster). You can discard a couple of the activities if you don’t understand them or if they just don’t fit, but your basic job is to take all of the activities and come up with a semi-interesting story for your character that makes at least a semblance of sense. You are deserted on a narrative island with only the cards fate has dealt you.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you draw the Alias, “Librarian,” and the following Activities:
- giving advice to strangers
- making a voodoo doll
- playing poker
- reading people’s thoughts
- sawing someone in half
- slaying a dragon
- being overcome with existential angst
A kid might throw back the “existential angst” and “frolicking” cards (having no idea what they mean) and tell a story something like,
“When I got to be school librarian for a day, it was awesome because for once I got to be the one giving advice to strangers instead of them giving advice to me. But what was really cool was something I didn’t know about librarians: all librarians can read people’s thoughts! So that’s how they seem to know everything. Anyway, since I could read everyone’s minds when they came in, I got their books for them before they even asked or looked them up on the Internet or anything.
One little kid came in wanting a book about slaying a dragon, so I went to the kids’ section and brought back a book of fairy tales. Another, older kid wanted to learn how to play poker so he could win money off his friends, so I got him a poker guide. Some girl who was supposed to perform magic tricks for a talent show was wondering how you saw someone in half without killing them, so I got her a big book of magic trick secrets. Then, just before school ended, this one teacher came in, and I could tell he’d had a rough day. But I couldn’t believe what he was thinking: he wanted to know how to make a voodoo doll of his most rowdy students so he could stick pins into them under his desk whenever they disrupted class. I told him the library was closing and he’d have to come back tomorrow. Good thing, too, because I’m one of his worst students!”