As a parent it's my job to build a blueprint for the kind of man I want my son to be when he's grown. Of course I want him to be happy and successful, as well as kind, respectful, and charitable. I want him to be loving and industrious, with a sense of wonder that leads him on amazing adventures of self-discovery. And I want him to work hard to make his community, and the world at large, a better place.
But most days, I'd forgo all that if I could just get him to pick up his clothes and put them in a damn hamper already. At least, that's how I used to feel, before our family found Chore Wars and my son started making all our beds and putting away the dishes every morning before school.
I wish I could say it was my great parenting that made a chore warrior of my 8-year-old boy, but that's not quite right. ChoreWars.com deserves the bulk of the credit for our neat beds and clean floors of late. Pair the online role playing game with an 8-year-old boy's competitive streak—an easily exploitable software flaw in almost every grade-school boy's operating system—and you've got a magic combination that will result in battles with monsters, treasure finding and clean houses.
"I've started using Chore Wars to monitor my own self care. I have mental illness that makes it hard for me to remember to do simple tasks such as cleaning and eating and sleeping. I recommend Chore Wars to anyone who is looking for ways to treat themselves better." –Chore Wars Testimonial
When I first told my son about the game, he accused me of wanting to trick him into doing chores. There was "no way" he'd play it. I told him that was fine and that his mother and I didn't need him to play with us because we could have a perfectly good time without him. He watched over our shoulders as we signed up, and as soon as he saw that players could pick their own avatars and name them, he was hooked. I became a barbarian ape, aptly named The Dad, my wife a banshee named The Mom, and the boy chose to be a skeleton warrior named The Killer.
We scrolled through various different adventures—heroic quests like "Make a Bed" and "Take Out the Trash"—and compared the different amounts of Experience Points, or xp, each could earn us. Instantly my son ran from the room to make his bed, then his sister's bed, then our bed, only stopping between chores to log them into his adventure sheet. The first two entries were uneventful, but at the third he was face-to-face with a killer bed bug, which he quickly vanquished for six gold pieces.
The xp you earn doing chores help your character ascend levels, thus getting more hit points and faring better in combat. Experience points are also used to rank players by their choreworthiness, so you can check into the leader board and see who's ahead of whom, which is a great motivator for our son. We've decided to use it as an allowance gauge also. If he earns over 500xp in a week, he gets his allowance; if not, the hero has failed his allowance quest.
The acquisition of gold pieces, or gp, is an especially motivating part of the game. In the game world there is nothing to spend treasure on, so we worked out a real-world system of trade. We sat down and drew up a sheet of things our son would like but never seems to get enough of. For example, he can trade in 200gp to move a Netflix movie of his choice up to the top of the queue. For 600gp, he can have a sleepover.
I'm also not above using my role as Dungeon Master to negotiate non-labor relations. For instance, my son agreed to cancel a scheduled play date for an unexpected family obligation—no whining—in exchange for 50xp. Some people (mostly people without kids) might call this a bribe. I call it Parenting Economics 101.
I don't know how long this adventure will continue, but while it works, it really works. And I'd be lying if I said it hasn't made chores more fun for my wife and me, too.
• For children with autism, try breaking up a big task, like "Clean Your Bedroom," into small, direct instructions ("Put Dirty Clothes in Hamper" and "Make the Bed").
• For children with behavioral issues, try goal-oriented tasks like "Today I Did Not Curse," "Today I Did Not Break Things," or "Today I said something nice or helped someone."
• Let their interests guide you: Some children may be excited about putting dishes away versus sweeping the kitchen floor.
• It's okay to add a few feel-good tasks into the mix, too. "Eat a Healthy Breakfast," "Read for Fun for 15 Minutes," and "Do a Good Deed" all make for a happy, healthy family.