I can’t remember who came up with the game — one of my four brothers or my extremely clever mother.
On Saturday mornings, we had to clean our rooms before we could go out to play or stay inside to play board games like Risk and Monopoly.
So we turned “cleaning our rooms” into a game. Since we doubled up in the bedrooms (except my oldest brother, Tom, who always had his own room, not that I’m still upset about that), we’d take turns being the caller and the cleaner.
The caller would randomly shout “fast” and “slow.” If you were the cleaner, you either picked up socks and underwear at hyper speed or made the bunk beds in super slow motion. Since games are all about rules and fair play, we made certain each brother spent equal time in both roles. “Fast/slow” was like an indoor “red light/green light” with a higher purpose: Making Mom happy.
Through the game, a chore became fun. An odious task became a source of laughter.
In my new book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, my “reluctant reader” hero, Kyle Keeley, comes to realize that digging up information in a library can be as much fun as playing the games he’s crazy about.
As he writes in his essay to win a spot as one of the twelve twelve-year-olds invited to celebrate the grand opening of the world’s most ridiculously brilliant library: “Using a library can make learning about anything (and everything) fun. When you’re in a library, researching a topic, you’re on a scavenger hunt, looking for clues and prizes in books instead of your attic or backyard.”
Or as James Paul Gee, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, puts it: “Good games offer players a set of challenging problems and then let them solve these problems until they have virtually routinized or automated their solutions.”
Whether the problem to be “routinized” is cleaning a messy bedroom or navigating one’s way through the Dewey Decimal system, turning it into a game can turn it into fun.
Chris Grabenstein is the co-author (with James Patterson) of the #1 New York Times Bestseller I Funny as well as Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. He is also an award-winning author of over twenty other books for children and adults, a playwright, screenwriter, and former advertising executive and improvisational comedian. Winner of two Anthony and three Agatha Awards, Chris wrote for Jim Henson’s Muppets and co-wrote the CBS-TV movie The Christmas Gift starring John Denver. His dog Fred has better credits: Fred starred on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
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