Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Message Game

I have been working a lot lately. This, of course, cuts into the time I spend with my wife and daughters. I was lucky enough to get home last night in time to kiss my older daughter good night and sing her a bedtime song. It is the parental equivalent of eating the icing off the cake -- enjoying the sweetest part, forgetting how good the rest is. Well, I can't say I have forgotten how good the rest is, but I am leaving it on the plate for now.

Before we went to bed, we played "The Message Game", which is what my daughter calls Yahoo Instant Messenger (YIM). I am proud to report that her hunt-and-peck typing is faster than that of my boss. Her spelling is better, as well, but I wouldn't want her running the business.

Her favorite part of the game is playing with her papa. It's nice that we can do this even when I am at work. She contacts me when she gets home from school and we sometimes play her second favorite part. We play checkers together. It will not stun you to learn that in all of the dozens of games we have played I have yet to win. The fact is, she very much enjoys winning. She tells me this every time. "I am good at checkers," she announces, "I always win. Super Red!"

Indeed she does. This serves my purpose in two ways. It allows me the opportunity to build her confidence, if not her checkers playing skill. She does not ask herself, as indeed I have not asked until today, where the name checkers came from. She does not question why she always wins, nor imagine that there is any strategy that might help to extend her winning streak. I know that such checkers strategy exists. I seem to recall that Boris Spassky, chess grandmaster of the 1970s, had a sister Irina who was a checkers champion.

In my daughter's mind, however, she wins because she is lucky, and because she has an innate talent for checkers. It will not stun you to learn that she has the same talent for tic-tac-toe, as we discovered at an Italian restaurant the other night while waiting for the food.

The other purpose for letting her win is that it shortens the game considerably. This is not because I dislike spending time with my daughter. It's just that she generally takes a good long time between moves. Hence, I leave very little to make up for that. In a timed game, I'd whip her ass. Don't for a second imagine that she is spending this time considering her next move. She is merely distracted by a dozen other things.

I see her on the webcam I mounted over the monitor at home. It has full view of the TV room. After she moves, I watch her rise and hop over to where she can view the screen. She watches Spongebob or whatever for a few minutes, then climbs up on the sofa and makes her way back to the PC by walking across the top of the sofa back. My wife deplores this, but to Polina it is as much an adventure as finding a land route to Asia (and sometimes seems to take as long).

When I think about Marco Polo, I cannot help but wonder:

  • Did he set out for profit or adventure?
  • Had anyone else gone there and back? Why did his deeds matter? Was it because he blogged about it (well, kept and later published a journal, the blog equivalent in his day)?
  • Surely there were others who tried and failed, died along the way, no?
  • What were his special talents that helped him avoid the spear and the cookpot along the way?
  • Did his father let him win at checkers?
  • Having discovered something that altered the lives of most of the rest of the planet, did he spend his later life happy to have advanced civilization and commerce, or did he die regretting that he had not fully exploited his adventure for personal gain?
  • Did he worry that by opening up trade routes that would bring species from one biological niche into another, certain species would perish? Did he not value the biological status quo?
  • Are the founders of the internet and web happy to helped most of the rest of the planet, are do they rue that others have become far wealthier than they?
  • Do the founders ever worry that by opening up new avenues of commerce certain species of business would perish? Do they not value the commercial status quo? Have they no mom? Have they no pop?

Hold on. It is my turn.

It is now her turn again. She gets a king, or, as this child of the 1970s tells her, a queen. One advantage of playing checkers on Yahoo Instant Messenger is that it enforces all the rules. If you have a jump, it is the only move it allows you to make. All other checkers are frozen in place. It also marks a checker that has made it to her opponent's home row with a crown icon. In regular checkers, of course, we would proudly say, "King me." It is a gentle humiliation of one's opponent to command him to relinquish one of the checkers he has captured.

Since YIM performs this service silently, I type a message to my daughter, "Queen!", or on those rare occasions when I reach the crownhead, "King me!".

I suppose someday someone will try to explain to my daughter that her checkers do not become queens, but rather kings. My daughter will confidently correct them. She knows that girl checkers can only become queens. Only boy checkers can be kings. She will say this with certainty. It will be impossible to dissuade her.

If I were to raise her a full feminist, I suppose, I would have to avoid any and all attributions of gender to the game token. Royal Checker. Elevated Token. Oppressor. "Oh, honey! How lucky for you. Now you get to be an oppressor".

Wait, it's my turn. Imagine that, I just lost a piece.

Thinking back on my college years, I recall how the fullest of the full feminists had a penchant for socialism and its ridiculous aim of producing an equality of outcome in a society where talent and luck are not equally distributed. I suppose they might have me teach my daughter that all checkers are inherently equal, and that no one checker should have more power than another. If one checker can move bi-directionally, then all must be allowed to.

In short, the full feminists would have me teach my daughter rules that have no relation to real life. They would raise her not to be someone who helps the rest of the planet with her special skills. They would consider such truck evil, capitalistic selfishness. In the name of empowerment, they would teach her she was a victim, and sap her of her confidence and special skills, for that is their special skill. They would destine her for the cookpot. They would scare the sense of adventure right out of her.

But as I said, she is a lucky girl. Her papa knows better.

1 comment:

kiirnodel said...

Your girls are both very lucky to have a "Papa" like you. As well as a "Mama" like Oxana. You appear to b raising a very strong and independent young lady.