“You don’t win anything Uncle Leo…you just play!”
How an encounter with a unique game provided yet another life lesson from my favorite 6-year old.
It was a normal weekday; I showed up to visit with my most consistent reason for stopping by… absolutely none at all. After exchanging hugs with everyone and dropping off what I have no recollection of, I noticed M was leaning over her iPad, completely immersed in something that strangely beeped with a uniquely pleasant jingle.
At this point during my visits, M and I usually end up horsing around in some creative mix of wrestling, tag, or some sort of make-believe activity. After all, spending time with a 6-yr old does have its perks. But not this time. I had absolutely none of her attention, making me feel a tad bit invisible. Normally, when she’s preoccupied, I’d use the rare moment of respite to go visit with other members of the family. This time, I let my curiosity get the best of me. I plopped down next to her, noting how the tremor of my descent and her subsequent rebalancing on the cushions had absolutely no distracting effect.
“What are you playing M?”
[In a completely disengaged response] “It’s a game. Toca Boca”
[Everything that followed was in a tone of, “ 🤨 You should know this.”]
“It’s a game!”
“Cool! Can I see?”
At this point, I realized I was testing the fragile limits of her massive reserves of patience. However, I do suspect she was tickled by my ignorance, and for a brief moment, she could be my expert tour guide in this magical world of her own making.
She nudged closer…and we began.
A Whole New World
What followed was a brief experience of everything creativity, fun, and freedom from an interactive video game for kids was supposed to be. She walked me around “her” virtual city…showed me how to customize a room…clothe a virtual character…and so much more. We spent an inordinate amount on the customization piece… safe to say I was pretty proud of what we came up with 👗😅.
I think at this point my sheer awe had gotten her attention. But I still couldn’t see the point.
“So what are you trying to do?”
“Nothing — I’m just playing.”
“I know…but what are you trying to do? Do you have to get somewhere?”
“No…I do whatever I want.”
“So how do you win?”
“You don’t win Uncle Leo…you just play!”
I don’t think my mental and cultural model easily adapted to this one. Play has its purpose, but this concept has very much faded from my professional achiever, goal setter, impact maker, time maximizer narrative.
For anyone developing apps and creative experiences, this was an amazing product — targeted perfectly for its audience, with the UX and performance doing exactly what it was designed to do: delight the user and immerse them fully. The mix of creative characters, colorful animations, smooth entry/exit transitions, quirky sounds, gentle motion, overall responsiveness and open-ended storytelling put this in another category…something I’d never seen before. Ah…and another thing: it didn’t crash. No lags or delays. Just a super fun app.
As an adult, it opened up a completely different world of possibilities. Funny enough, it also showed me I was massively behind on what these virtual worlds have become. But it also re-introduced a delightful lesson.
Don’t forget to play…
I wasn’t expecting another life lesson from a 6-year old…but her creativity and complete immersion tapped me on my shoulder at a time when my calendar was packed with appointments that couldn’t be missed and commitments that had to be kept. In a time when every decision I make feels like it has immense consequences (esp as we head into the New Year), this one was another kind reminder. Or maybe I shouldn’t be extracting lessons at all…I should just be playing. Or at least playing more often. 🙌🏽
- The company: Toca Boca Development Studio
- The company’s values: Toca Boca 👏🏽 🔥
- Socials: Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube
PS — I learned that this game was Apple’s Game of the Year. Apple praised the award winner for “still masterfully iterating on the art of play and self-expression for kids…”