Before There Were Stars & The Soft Skills that Come After

October 1, 2020

There’s something truly captivating about activities that encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.  Television shows like The Great British Baking Show or Repair Shop (aside from being delightfully British) feature people being kind to each other, people cooperating, and people putting their best effort forward in a very human way.  These shows feature people encountering challenges, and moving through them.

And you know what?  Sometimes their cake falls to the floor.  Literally.  On the floor.  Sometimes they’re frustrated or they shed a few tears.  And then they have the opportunity to say, “Oh well, it’s just cake,” or they find another way to approach the problem.  We get to watch them ask for help or try again the next time.  These are all soft skills, and when we practice our soft skills we become more resilient.

There are some problems that can’t be remedied by working on resilience.  Trauma, for example, can’t be solved by just bucking up and carrying on.  But everyday situations and everyday relationships can benefit when we continually make new attempts to learn and explore.  As the old saying goes, if you aren’t failing some of the time, you aren’t trying enough new things!

It’s important now, as we sit in the midst of Zoom classes and Zoom meetings, to remember soft skills and resilience.  Our resilience muscles sure are getting a workout this year!  But the point is to give ourselves bite-size challenges that we can realistically succeed at, not grind ourselves into the dirt trying to move mountains.  That’s the key to practice and exercise.  This is the kind of practice and exercise that will help us as we navigate job interviews, doctor’s appointments, and traffic jams.  Games are a great way to carve out those little chunks of exploration, trial & error, and brain exercise.  Games are the “30-minute brisk walk” of the soft skills world.  Games are a place where it’s safe-to-fail.  Games are a place where children can practice soft skills and resilience without knowing that they’re building a skill for adulthood.

Every game is fun – for someone.  Maybe Monopoly is your family’s jam; maybe Monopoly stresses you out and sends family members running for the hills.  Which is why it’s so great that there are games for every type.  (See our Barrister Personal Shopper service and Virtual Barrister service to learn more about how we can help you find just the right fit!)

The one game I think about most often when I think about soft skills is Before There Were Stars, recommended for players aged about 8-10 and older (depending on patience level and attention span).  It’s a storytelling game where players each create a mythic origin story.  Using the provided materials, each player takes turns incorporating elements to tell their tale.  Over the 4 rounds, each player will craft the beginnings of their fictional world, the origins of a civilization, the rise of a great hero, and an ending legacy.

What is it like to play this game?  The most basic skill players will exercise is the skill of taking turns and listening to the other players.  Ah yes, the ol’ Active Listening skill is definitely required here.  The next obvious skill in this game is thinking on your feet and improvising how to include various elements into your story, such as “the owl,” “the hammer,” “lightning,” or “the spy.”  There is a bit of friendly competition, as each player rolls dice in an attempt to claim the story elements they wish to add to their story.  So you quickly learn to change your gameplan midway if necessary (yep, another great adulting skill.  Shhh… don’t tell the kids).

My favorite part of Before There Were Stars is what I like to call the “gratitude” phase.  Each player will secretly reward their fellow players each round for the parts they liked best, but at the end of the game, all players identify something they particularly appreciated about the others’ stories.  And tell it to them.  Out loud.  Directly.  (Hey, this might actually be two skills: gratitude and communication!)  Expressing gratitude is something we all know we could do more of.  But many of us find heart-to-heart conversations are things we’ll “get around to later,” or we find it awkward to say “I love you” or “I appreciate you” out of the blue.  This game gives us a great framework and a prompt where we get to say supportive things to each other.

Not only does Before There Were Stars give us the opportunity to stretch our creative muscles and other soft skills, it also gives us a safe context in which to explore our values and fears.  The players each get to experiment with their own individual self-expression as they exert control over their fictional mythos.  And as a group, we all get to participate with our family or social group in the expression of those values – or is the value of that expression?  It’s both!

When we play with mythology, storytelling, and make-believe, we dabble with mysteries, lessons, connections, symbols, and meanings.  I can’t really tell you what game is in the box, because it will be different every time you play it.  Whether your mythic tales end up being full of comedic riffs, packed with derring-do, or whether they venture into darker themes, you won’t know until you’ve tried.

Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.


Elizabeth W.

Elizabeth is the Regional Manager and keeps the entire Barrister family organized. When not at the stores, you can sometimes find Elizabeth in the 16th century. Some of her all-time favorite games are Early American Chrononauts, Forbidden Island, Concept, and Codenames.

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