What I Learned Watching My Son Play Harbor Master

My son Logan and I have been playing a game called HarborMaster on my iPhone lately. In the game, the player controls the incoming and outgoing ships in a harbor. One guides ships into docks, which are sometimes color coded, and back out to open water after their cargo is unloaded. The goal is to get as many units of cargo unloaded as possible before any of the ships, which arrive at an ever increasing rate, collide. Logan has other ideas.


The Boy Likes Crashing

He tries to direct the ships into the rocky shore or the beach, into the mismatched docks, and into each other. He’s not gotten more than 7 cargo units unloaded in a game even though he undersands the mechanics. I know he does because his collisions and attempts to run the ships aground are carefully executed. These short games wouldn’t be a problem except that we take turns playing and my games take much longer than his.

I Like Order

To my surprise, he doesn’t seem to mind, but it bothered me. I pointed out to him that his turns would last longer if he would stop crashing the ships. Unconcerned, he said, “Sometimes I like my turns little.” Getting frustrated, I said, “But, that’s not how the game is supposed to be played.” This bit of “wisdom” was met with silence. Fortunately, I’m practicing the skill of quickly identifying when I feel frustrated then examining the causes.

Then I Looked Inside

When I explored my frustration this time I discovered that my reaction was tied into my sense of right and wrong. It was bothering me that he was deliberately trying to scuttle the ships. I let go of my desire for him to play my way.

It’s About Exploration, Not Competition

As I thought about this later, I had an important realization. I had blurred the line between fantasy and reality. There is nothing wrong with crashing ships in a game. I realized the point of the game for Logan is to explore it–to learn–not to compete, as I thought. That’s how young children view everything. It’s funny how young children intuitively understand this and we forget it as adults. This is a great example of one of the gifts that comes from being with kids: discovering what parts of ourselves to nurture to become whole again.