Quinn Buckley, 13, fished two dice, three paper cups, a multicolored sticker board and an assortment of pliable sticks from a plastic bag. He laid the objects on the table in front of a group of incredulous peers.
“What are we going to make?” asked Tyler Sonnett, 11.
His 71-year-old grandfather shrugged, as if to say, “Beats me.” Then, Tyler asked his grandfather what they might use as a playing surface.
“How about the whole table?”
Thirty minutes later, Tyler was lining up at the edge of the table, attempting a five-foot underhand shot into a basket fashioned out of binder clips and paper cups. The kids crushed Wikki Stix into a ball, stuck red dots to the table’s surface to denote point values and began firing away on their miniature playground of sorts.
“Nice!” Quinn said to his new buddy Tyler, whose front teeth emerged as he broke into a wide grin after sinking the shot.
The boys were part of a group of kids who joined their parents and grandparents Sunday at the National Museum of Natural History with the simple goal of bonding by making games together. Dozens attended the workshop aimed at bridging the age gap through the universal language of gaming — both physical and digital. AARP sponsored the event with the mission of creating a video game that people across generations would want to play together.
“If you can create a video game, you can create a board game,” said Allison Mishkin, a research and program manager at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop who instructed the workshop. “If you can create a board game, you can create a video game. And if you’ve played soccer, odds are you can do both.”
The event was billed as a way to combat a digital, generational and distance divide among relatives. Some children emerged surprised at the ubiquity of game-playing across generations.
Statistics show that 57 percent of parents think game play helps the family spend time together. And 59 percent of parents play video games with their children at least weekly, according to figures provided by the Entertainment Software Association.
Mishkin said senior citizens boot up video games often, though people might not realize it — games such as Words With Friends and Sudoku.
Kristin Walus, 51, attended the workshop with her 9-year-old son Tristan in hopes it might help him connect with his 79-year-old grandfather. Tristan and his grandfather, who lives in Broad Run in Loudoun County, may face a wide age gap, but they have a mutual interest in games, Walus said.
“My dad likes to play solitaire on his computer, and I’m just trying to figure out how to bridge the generations,” she said. “Even though you’re 70 years apart, you can stay connected and know each other.”
Meanwhile, Tristan was pressing keys on a laptop as he created a game of his own. The object: to avoid bombs and enemies while trying to reach a gold block. Tristan and his mother had constructed the game board, building their own level in Gamestar Mechanic, an online application designed to teach game design, primarily for kids ages 7 to 14 but available to anyone.
“Wait, how do you shoot?” his mom asked at one point.
“One second, Mom!” Tristan responded.
For older generations, Sunday’s event was a way to connect with loved ones, fight isolation and advance digital literacy. The workshop provided one critical lesson for Bernie Hirl, 72, who had inquired about the usefulness of hashtags.
“It’s not what’s in my breakfast plate?” he asked with a laugh.
He learned how the pound sign had taken on a whole new meaning for a generation of kids who might not otherwise even know what the symbol is called.
Mishkin, of the Cooney Center, led the various stages of the workshop. She first had the groups design a physical game using principles that could be applied to video-game design. The kids and their relatives would devise the mechanics, components, rules and other aspects of their games.
Designing a video game, Mishkin said, begins like any other creative process: at the drawing board. One group devised a game, “Fun Free Flicks,” that involved flicking Starburst candies to various locations on a construction-paper board for an assigned number of points. Through peer testing, however, players noticed the raised Wikki Stix used to construct the center hoops slowed the momentum of the candy game pieces perhaps unfairly. How to alleviate the problem?
“A steamroller?” suggested Tristan, to laughs.
Another game, the brainchild of the Sonnett family and others, mimicked playground basketball. After initial uncertainty, the developers settled on the name “KQT-ball,” after its creators, Kendrick Dupree, 10, Quinn and Tyler. “Grandpa” Stephen Sonnett, who racked up 16 points in 10 attempts, had another name for it: “hard.”