As an aspiring game developer, I value the importance of dreaming big when it comes to what one wants to do with his/her life. I value doing whatever it takes (within reason, and legal) to achieve long-term goals. But there is a caveat to all of this that adults don’t tend to consider when relaying this to children. Hints: the parentheses earlier, and the asterisk in the title.
This topic came to me when I saw this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. As a little tangent, you may be seeing that publication referenced quite a bit here at CWG. Anyway, it reminded me of the truism that I often heard in my childhood, that “I could be whatever I wanted to be,” or “I could do whatever I wanted to.” When adults say that to children, they have certain qualifications that are subconsciously applied. For instance, they don’t mean that one can physically be whatever, such as the comic’s example, a helicopter. Or, that the child shouldn’t try to do anything against the laws of their country, like theft, or against the laws of reality, like going faster than light.
Obviously, this is because adults have more experience than children. Adults have been through college, searched for a job, and actively have to support themselves and their families financially. They have to be good at thinking practically and assessing risks. So sometimes, even what is possible and legal is out of the question. Someone who just makes a living wage at an office isn’t likely to even consider becoming an astronaut one day, with the possible exception of the office being a NASA office.
However, young children don’t see things quite that way; most of the time, anyway. I suspect that this is part of why children rarely grow up to do just what they wanted to do when they were first asked the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” According to this article, most kids want to be pro athletes, but relatively few actually will – and there’s a reasonable chance that some who didn’t really want to be pro athletes will actually end up being pro athletes. It also said that “video game designer” was in the podium for favorite professions among 8 to 10 year-olds, before dropping off again. More on that next week. Though I don’t have any specifics to report from it, this article from the same site is interesting too (especially parts 1, 3, and 4).
This isn’t a bad thing, that kids tend to take that question too literally when they are very young; and, part 1 of the second reference above mentions how what one is going to do in the future as a career is influenced by what that person likes and what their skills are, and that doesn’t always become very clear before even middle school. Having a big imagination is good, and reinforcement of a child’s ability to achieve their goals is also good, again as long as it’s physically possible, not illegal, and is also generally ethical. Just be aware that they are not incredibly likely to understand all of that if they are very young, and may still not have much of a grasp on the future if they are older. Beyond this, though, is a bit out of my league, so we’ll have to bring this back into my league: video games.
In video games, you can be whatever you want to be*. Notice how the asterisk is still there. Part of the reason is mathematical; not all conceivable games have been created, or will be created, so not all conceivable player characters exist. But as a player, one is also confined only to the experiences made available to them by their creators, and only the ones of which they own a licensed copy (unless they’re pirated). Still, this allows players to have experiences that would otherwise be impossible in the real world. This is why I think that so many people are drawn to them. The young and old alike can dare to “dream the impossible dream” with video games, and because they are first hand experiences, I actually think that they can do a much better job than a book or a movie can.
Here’s a fun activity for ages 8 to 80 (but not a day over 80). Take a look at your game library, and think, “what would I want to be?” This is, in a sense, how young children frame that question. Rather than thinking, “what is the most high-paying job in my field of interest that has decent benefits, and that I will be most likely to retire from with enough accrued wealth that I can live the rest of my life without financial problems,” they’ll think “what’s the coolest job imaginable?” I like thinking that way. While it is of course important to keep a sense of reality, but dreaming big is how you really make your mark on this world.
But wait – there is a way to be what you want, if not in real life. Stay tuned for next week’s article about wanting to be a game designer when you grow up, and keep in mind that bit of info about what age range kids usually want to be game designers.