Monday, July 29, 2013

Adventures in Geek Parenting: Chore Wars

The Setup

We're trying to replace assigned chores and allowances with Chore Wars. Keep in mind that allowances are already earned on a per-chore basis under the old system. You only got paid for what you did and could document. (Just like real life!) The old system had a number of assigned chores equal to each child's age and they earned $1 per chore completed for the week. We were open to negotiating extra pay for extra work were either child really needing to generate some income. But I don't know that the option was ever exercised. Maybe once by the teenager?

For Chore Wars I'm moving away from assigned chores 'cos that doesn't fit the gamification aspects. Once it's assigned it becomes a true chore, not a game-like challenge. It's possible the kids will even start to compete with each other to maximize their own earning potential. It's also possible to cooperate, but it's up to them to work out who gets credit for what within the Chore Wars system.

Also, rather than an all or nothing for the week approach, you can claim the vast majority of chores (or Adventures as Chore Wars calls them) once per day. This also means that rather than being worth $1 if completed for the week each chore is worth $0.10-$0.25 with a few particularly challenging Adventures still worth $1 per (cleaning a bathroom for example). There's also a random element in the pay out, most adventures have a range for the "gold" you earn upon completion, which the system determines randomly.

My idea here is to encourage daily tidying rather than a weekly mad-dash. One side effect being if you sweep the office today and you also swept it yesterday it should be much easier and you can earn your chore pay out that much more quickly. But we have to hit a certain critical mass of actually doing stuff before the lesson clicks.

Every time I sit the kids down and explain how things are supposed to work, we see an explosion of activity. But this quickly falters after a day or two. They say it's because I hardly ever pay out. But I say I see no point in paying out when they've barely earned $1 for the week. This weekend I made my pitch again. And the teenager has really dove into the task. The 9 year old is still kinda draggin' ass. But maybe he'll get there eventually.

Current Experiment

I say all that just as back-story for my actual purpose in writing this. In addition to the in-game gold system I'm basing pay outs on, there's an XP system and a treasure system. I'm brainstorming on ways to leverage those for added incentive to actually do chores and log them daily.

Another goal here is to build family memories. So I'm trying to organize/structure evening family activities around that goal. Then offer incentives based on the Chore Wars system. Currently my thinking goes something like this.

Organized Family Activity Time

I'd like to set aside 7 to 9pm each night for family activity time. There are some assumptions already built into this. On work days I get home around 5:30. If we can get dinner served by 6:15 or so then we can have the dishes put away by 7 and dive into family activity time. This also assumes the house is at least tidy enough to be livable if not perfect and the kids have all their school work done. If this isn't the case we all pitch in to get there. Family activity time ends at 9 so if we don't have our collective act together then we all pay a price.

Each week night has an assigned activity. I haven't gone so far as to assign these to a specific night yet, but the 5 structured activities I can come up with are:

  1. Board Game Night
  2. Reading Aloud Night
  3. Netflix / TV Night
  4. Music / Jam Session Night
  5. Video Game Night

The weekly leader in terms of XP in Chore Wars gets to pick the specific thing we do within that night's activity. Saturday and Sunday nights are freestyle, and the XP leader gets to pick both the type of activity as well as the specific thing we do that night. There's also random treasure items that we collect. I'm considering allowing those to be bid to hijack the normal XP leader process. Or maybe make them worth a temporary XP bonus for the purpose of calculating the winner for the day.


We've tried stuff like this in the past and it has never stuck. Essentially it only takes one of us to go all Negative Nancy on the idea to derail it for the rest of us. Also making a schedule and sticking to it is hard, you guys! The gamification elements are new and hopefully will help motivate us to actually stick with it. I have not budgeted in time for things like an exercise routine. So getting that in there piles the assumptions even higher than they currently are. Once we try to roll this out to production we may have to reduce family time to 90 or 60 minutes. But that will limit the choices available for some of the activities. Maybe that's part of the weekend freestyle. We can play longer games or watch longer movies or whatever. That gets a little easier to pull off 'cos the school work should still be done from Friday night. We'll see.

Future Development

If the incentives for experience points catch on there's added arbitrary challenges we can introduce. The Chore Wars system already allows you to claim partial or bonus XP for any given Adventure, the mechanics of which are left up to the users. So, for example, completing a task while whistling may be worth 25% bonus XP while walking backwards throughout the task may be worth a 50% bonus. Do both and claim double XP. Introducing such things at this point would just be adding complication to a system we're still not yet fully using. But it's good to have ideas to grow on as needed.

Chore Monster

For anyone thinking of trying something similar, there is an alternative to Chore Wars that seems a bit more modern and app based: Chore Monster.

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