Talking about screen time, game nights, and Minecraft with the authors of UNBORED Games

by ParentCo. March 18, 2015

Parent Co: Did you guys know you wanted to write a book just about games? Or did this grow out of the first book, “Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun”? Elizabeth: No. All of our spin-offs, including “Unbored Games,” and we're just finishing a book that is about adventure, grew out of the first book. The first book was sort of the mothership, and we poured a lot of our prior knowledge from areas that we were experts in, plus things we wanted to learn about, and then I think we stepped back and looked at what the natural spin-offs would be for the book. Josh: We didn't know the first book would do well, so we just decided to put everything into it. So it's all the things Elizabeth and I liked to do when we were kids, the things we like doing with our own kids, and then, as Elizabeth said, things that we wanted to know more about. So we brought in experts, we went out and did research ourselves, there's a lot of contributors and helping hands with that first book. Read the UNBORED Games Manifesto "Unbored" is in a funny category in the bookstore and in the world of publishing for kids, because there's a lot of emphasis, of course, on books for kids up to age 6 or 8, right? Because that's when parents are more nervous, and kids are around the house more, and the parents kind of keep them entertained, and develop their minds… Once kids get to be the middle age of 8 to 13, which is where we're aiming at, that has kind of gone away. Kids are in school, they're doing after school stuff, they're in programs, they're getting more involved with screens. So, there's much less publishing for kids that age. And then we're trying to think, for spin-offs, what are some of the activities that were in "Unbored" that parents and kids, age 8 to 13, like to do together? And the number one answer was games. You're fairly nonjudgmental and open to all sorts of different game experiences. And even in the first book, some of the activities are a little dangerous, which I think is fantastic. Where did that mindset come from for both of you? Josh: When we set out to write this book, we were kind of inspired in a negative way by "The Dangerous Book for Boys" and "The Daring Book for Girls" and all that stuff, for a few reasons: A. We really like the idea of those books. When those books first came out, we were excited about them, people gave them to us as gifts, and we wanted to have a good time with them with our kids. We, like the creators of those books, feel like there's a lot of value in old-fashioned activities, and stuff that people used to do before screens came along. And back when parents weren't so helicopter-y, and kids were allowed to go out and have more fun outside by themselves. But the problem with those books that we found, is that they're so relentlessly nostalgic, it's kind of like a polar to the modern world. They're not realistic, and they're not really that fun. There aren't that many things that you can actually do in them, and they're kind of a nostalgia trip for the parents, or even the grandparents who give them, they're not really for the kids. We wanted to do something more realistic that was like those books, but it was more up to date, it was contemporary, and it wasn't hypocritical, it was how we actually live. We were going to add a little bit of caution for the kids, but also a little bit anti-helicopter. And we're a little bit okay with screens, and also a little bit wanting our kids not to be on screens. So, we wanted to reflect that kind of balance in the book. Elizabeth: I think that just family life in general, whether or not you're being the parents or the kid, is sort of inherently humbling experience. You mess up all the time, no one does it perfectly. And I think we just saw an opportunity to do something that was encouraging and positive, but I also think is empathetic to all sorts of different kinds of families. I'm curious to hear from each of you: what in your past or professional career led you to the point at which you wrote the first book? Josh: Elizabeth and I used to work together at a magazine called "Utne Reader" so we both have journalistic backgrounds and we really like researching and reading, and saw this as an opportunity to not only download things that we enjoy doing with our kids, and enjoyed doing when we were kids, but to do a lot of research, and reading, and finding out stuff we didn't know. Elizabeth: I think both of us love to take one theme and explode it, and look at it from all sorts of angles, including angles that you wouldn't naturally think would relate to it. Like, in “Games,” we have how to make a king cake, which is a traditional Mardi Gras cake, that we turned into a game. And the subject also was, well for me, was a natural culmination from a lot of my professional work because I write so much about parenting, and family life, and children. Josh: We were a good complementary team in that way, because we both had children, and we're old friends who are journalists and we knew that we worked well together, but also Elizabeth has this career writing about parenting. And I have this non-career of really, really enjoy playing games with kids, I don't know why. I always joke that I should have been a recess teacher. I actually tried out to be a teacher, I got a teaching degree, but it was too much work, but the playing was really fun. So I learned more about parenting, and empathy, and child development, and Elizabeth got to do more fun projects with the kids. How did the Manifesto came together, because it's so great. Josh: We wrote Unbored Manifesto and we were so happy with it, that we decided we just wanted to replicate that in each of the spin-offs, and just give our version of that for Games, and give our version of that for Adventure. That's part of the answer, and the other part is that we had both done a lot of research that we don't really lay out in the book, we don't expose all of the research in the books. Elizabeth is a journalist, and she does a lot of interviews with experts, and we'll dribble some of that into the books, but we don't want it to be off-putting to kids. Some of that stuff comes out in weird places in the book, like in the Resources section, or in the Manifesto, where we'll actually lay out some of the things we've learned about games and gaming in that way. What can you share about your next book - the adventure-themed edition? Josh: We are in the process of layout and design right now. We're going to turn it in in March, and it's basically 176 pages of adventures. A lot of it is going to be outdoor, probably a little bit more outdoor stuff than in the "Games" book. We decided to follow our formula and not just have it be a book about camping and hiking, but really try to push ourselves to think about ways people can have adventures in the city, people can have adventures around the house, people can have adventures in the kitchen, people can have adventures through experimentation. People can push boundaries in various ways that are just about getting out of your comfort zone, basically. It will be out in the fall. October.
Joshua Glenn is cofounder of the influential web sites Significant Objects, Hilobrow, and Semionaut. He has authored and edited a number of books. He lives in Boston and has two sons. Follow Joshua on Twitter (as Hilobrow). Elizabeth Foy Larsen was a member of the team that launched the awesome magazine Sassy. Her writing on families has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Daily Beast, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis with two sons and a daughter. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.
For more information on UNBORED Games as well as the original UNBORED Book, visit Connect on Facebook at Look inside the book on Get it there or direct from Bloomsbury Publishing.



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