‘You don’t need an answer’: Game theory, according to a 4-year-old

Adventures with Luke.

Luke isn't picky about how to spend his time, as long as he's playing a game. Photo by Brian McMillan
Luke isn't picky about how to spend his time, as long as he's playing a game. Photo by Brian McMillan
  • Palm Coast Observer
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For my 4-year-old son, Luke, games are what life is all about. For me, someone who always has one eye on my to-do list, games can be stressful time-wasters.

Recently, on the way to Holland Park, which has a green hill that kids slide down on cardboard “sleds,” he suggested that my wife and I guess animal sounds.

“What says this: meow,” he said.

“Cat,” my wife, Hailey, said.

“Yes!” he said. “Now you go.”

“Whoo, whoo,” I said.

“An owl!”

“That’s right.”

It was the kind of game that I grow weary of quickly. What is the point? It’s predictable and accomplishes nothing. What’s next? Let me guess: Oink=pig.

After an hour on the swings and climbing on jungle gyms, we finally said it was time to leave. I was getting antsy, feeling ready to get home and be productive.

Luke begged for one more round on the swings. Trying to be a good dad, I caved.

“Why do you like swings and games so much?” I asked, as I pushed him another 10 times.

He just kept smiling.

“I need an answer,” I said.

“No,” Luke said finally, “you don’t need an answer.”

Later, Luke painstakingly set up the board for Sorry!: The Disney Edition. Captain Hook, Hades, Maleficent and Cruella were his red team. I half-heartedly agreed to play, adding it to my mental to-do list so that I could mentally cross it off later. I asked to be the blue team.

“You can’t be blue because you can’t reach across the board,” Luke said.

“I have really long arms. See?” I said, raising my arms.

“Whoa!” Luke said.

Ellie, my 13-year-old daughter, observed dryly from the other couch, “It’s amazing how easy it is to impress Luke.”

Deciding not to prolong the debate, I agreed to my new assignment, the yellow team: Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White and Jessie (from “Toy Story 2”).

Round and round the board we went, and, as always, Luke wore down my crankiness. His smile became contagious. I kept thinking about Luke’s wisdom on the swings, his refusal to assign a higher purpose to playing games: “You don’t need an answer.”

Maybe not everything has to have a purpose, other than simply having fun. Maybe I should try being as un-uptight as Luke.

But at the same time, I was trying to multitask and get some things done on my laptop, and when I looked up next, Luke was gone. Captain Hook was in the Safety Zone, about to reach Home, and Luke had just walked away.

“Hey, Luke! Come back! We need to finish our game!”

“I don’t know whose turn it is!” was his response.

“I don’t know, either. Let’s say it’s your turn.”

He came back to Sorry! carrying a lid to a pizza box. “Perfect for the next time we go to Holland Park,” he said. Then, holding it close like it was a prized possession rather than a piece of trash, he repeated, quietly, “Perfection.”


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