Finding the Fun in Playing “Family”

Last week after dinner, my kids wanted to play “Family.” AGAIN. We had played “Family” the previous night, the kids resumed it on their own after breakfast in the morning, and somehow, they were still interested in wanting to play it again after dinner. Every single time we play, my daughter is the mom, my son, husband and I are siblings, and we are going on a trip to Hawaii. As much as the kids delight in the game, my husband and I dread it. After ten minutes, I feel completely drained and have to summon all of my willpower to resist checking out and looking at my phone.

I wondered what was wrong with me. After all, like most parents, I want my kids to grow up being creative and imaginative, so wasn’t it hypocritical of me to detest pretend play? But after talking to another parent, I realized that we shared the same story. Not only that, I then searched Google and found blog posts and Reddit threads where moms admit feeling guilty about it, while others give advice on how to get out of it. I felt vindicated.

But rather than just give in, I also continued to wonder how things could be better. Putting a product and design thinking lens to it, I realized this remembles the multi-sided marketplace problems that I’ve spent the last decade working on. Like any marketplace, there are two user personas — parent and child — and I needed to find a solution that satisfies both sets of user needs.

Define the goal

Create a map of user needs

Children want:

  • To feel in control. In real life, many decisions — like what they learn, what they eat,… — are made by parents and teachers for children, but in this game, they get to be the director.
  • To replay things that they’ve observed and seen. It helps them process and understand the world.
  • To feel secure. When things turn out the way they expect, they feel emotionally and psychologically comforted.

Adults want:

  • To have new adventures. The repetitive nature of the game makes adults feel bored.
  • To be able to end the game. It’s never fun to be trapped in a never-ending story, but sometimes it feels impossible to escape without a tantrum.
  • To have some time off. As family time has increased during the pandemic, adults need some breaks too.

Brainstorm solutions

  • Timebox the game
  • Work breaks into the game. Take advantage of playing the part of a child to enjoy the naps that they get to take as a break!
  • Modify the scene — If you’re always going to Hawaii, agree to go somewhere else.
  • Create a complication — We’re a family going to Hawaii, but we lost our luggage and need to track it down. Spin it into a detective mystery.
  • Go all-in! Incorporate Hawaii-themed activities into the game — making crafts for your set, going for a hike, and learning how to hula dance.
  • Research and plan a trip that you can take in real life.
  • Act out a favorite book, musical, or movie instead

Evaluate solutions

Grid to evaluate how well each idea meets user needs

Test it out

  • We took a walk around our neighborhood to represent hiking in Hawaii
  • The kids took a bath to pretend that they were swimming in a resort pool. (This gave the adults some time off too because we couldn’t fit in the tub and the kids were pretty entertained on their own.)
  • We made grass crowns and tropical lanterns out of construction paper.
  • We did a YouTube video together to learn how to hula
  • We watched a video of a luau while eating dinner to pretend that we were there.
Grass crowns and tropical lanterns contributed to our immersive pretend trip to Hawaii

We did the complete opposite of what I instinctually wanted to do. Instead of pulling back, we dove in deeper. And surprisingly, it was more enjoyable for everyone.

And that brings me to my last point: nurturing creativity takes work. There’s a fallacy that creativity is spontaneous, but it’s not totally true. We take steps to foster a creative environment. For example, we save toilet paper rolls so that there’s always a stash ready to be upcycled and transformed into fairy houses, binoculars, or pencil holders. The constraints of finding a way to play the game that made it enjoyable for all of us forced us to approach the problem creatively.

After our talk, my friend shared:

“I tried to shift my mindset with Izzy last night when she wanted to pretend play with her my little ponies. I went in remembering that we want to raise children that are imaginative and creative. And it was actually way more fun for me (and for Izzy!). She didn’t have to yell at me once for not paying attention.”

Just a simple shift in mindset… I love that low effort, low risk MVP!

A toilet paper roll has round a new life as a panda

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Lauren Chan Lee

Lauren Chan Lee is a product leader who enjoys writing about the connections between product principles and everyday life. Learn more at: