I have come up with an idea so brilliant that I temporarily blinded myself.
It came to me yesterday as I was trying to get the kids to clean up their most recent mess. They got their hands on some scrap lumber and built a skateboard park on my driveway. When they were finished having fun, I asked them to clean up all the leftover scraps of lumber. “You can’t have any fun unless it’s followed by work,” is what I always say.
Well, you’d think that I had asked them to move Mount Everest. I wasn’t expecting perfection, anything smaller than saw dust they could leave on the driveway. To get them to complete the clean up task, I had to commit myself to a half-hour of oversight in which, by my estimation, they performed about 43 seconds of actual work. They completed this work in between rounds of complaining, arguing, moping, going to the bathroom, making phone calls, and not being where they were supposed to be. If they ever hand out degrees for work aversion, my kids would graduate magna cum laude.
On the other hand, my kids can concentrate for hours on end playing video games. Trying to break their attention away from their game is like trying to break someone away from rapture.
This is where my brilliant idea comes in. If they can focus their attention on video game tasks like battling their way through a maze of rooms while all manner of hostile forces are after them, then we should develop a similarly challenging game centered around common household chores. It would be a wonderful game, full of different rooms to conquer, hostile forces to subdue, secret rooms, novel weapons, and of course, cheats.
The game will start in a room called the “kitchen.” The gamer’s task here is to wash a large mound of dirty dishes before the soap bubbles disappear from the sink. If a dish is broken, the player must start over. Extra soap bubble life can be acquired by cleaning off the dried-up milk ring from the bottom of a drinking glass. But watch out for the greasy pan! This will cause your soap bubbles to disappear twice as fast. So think strategically about the order in which the dishes are washed.
The next room will be the “toy room,” or as it is more traditionally called, the “family” or “living” room. The player must navigate their way through a shifting maze of toys on the floor. The only way to defeat the maze is to pick up toys and place them in your virtual toy box.
Upon successful completion of the toy room, there is a bonus activity where the player has to reassemble the bicycle that was carelessly left in pieces in the garage. This is a timed event and bonus points are awarded for each tool that is placed back in the toolbox.
Next is the “bathroom.” The challenge is to clean the bathroom, but there is a pitfall here; if the player fails to clean his hands first after the bicycle-reassembling event, the player must start over at the kitchen. Important cheat code: pick up the bar of soap when you wash your hands. The player then picks up a spray bottle of cleanser and, just like the first-person shoot-em-up games, squirts cleanser at various and sundry stains on the mirror, sink and toilet bowl.
In the “bedroom,” the player will be attacked by an assortment of toys, clothes and books that seem to appear out of nowhere. The only defense is to snare them in a net and place them in a toy box, in a drawer, or on a shelf. The challenge is to locate the source of the attacks and neutralize it with a thorough cleaning. Hint: the source is a secret room whose name is hidden in the anagram “telsoc.”
I will let my children play this video game for hours and hours. But how will this encourage the children to actually perform routine household chores? I am assuming that, were the earth to be invaded by hostile aliens, our kids would immediately, almost subconsciously, put into effect endless hours of video game-based training and eliminate the aliens post haste. I would therefore expect similar behavior as they amble about the house confronted with dirty dishes, clothes on the floor and toilet stains.
Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.