When Quitting Is for Winners

Last night, our two-year-old girl rage-quit an iPad game. I was seriously thrilled. Bear with me.


Rage-quitting is originally a video game term. I became familiar with it when I played a lot of Halo, in which multiplayer matches were often ruined by the losing team stomping off early to pout. Occasionally I was even among the losers, but that’s not the kind of quitting I’m talking about here. I don’t mean poor sportsmanship or short attention spans.

My first rage-quit occurred long before I got into first-person shooters. I’d just unboxed my big Christmas gift, a learner’s acoustic guitar, and Dad was showing me the basic chords. I had D and A down pat. Though C was tricky, I was getting it.

Then came G, and there was just no way. My pinky would not, could not, and did not bend like that. It wasn’t reasonable. I decided Dad must be pranking me. I tried for a long time—possibly five full minutes—before kicking that stupid Fender and announcing I couldn’t do it. I rage-quit the guitar real hard.

Our daughter’s first rage-quit was brought on by Kidadaptive’s awesome and educational Leo’s Pad. She was halfway through building a telescope by dragging and dropping shapes into place when two scalene triangles popped up and stumped her flat. After about a dozen tries, she snarled her little snarl, shoved the iPad away, and announced she couldn’t do it.


It may have looked a lot like a classic fit, but I knew what was really happening; she was being challenged beyond her self-perceived capacity. Like the G chord did for me, that drag-and-drop game had asked something of her she didn’t feel she had, so she rage-quit.

I was excited because I’d grown a little worried that all her screen time was mostly passive. She’d quit plenty of jigsaw puzzles, but that was from lack of interest, not competency. Rage-quitting means you really do want to succeed, but for the moment you’ve lost your will to try.

Sooner or later, after a good rage-quit, I always started a new Halo match. Eventually I came back to the guitar and can now play the G chord without even looking at my fingers or weeping openly, so there. For me, that explosive giving-up moment has often come just before a new bout of progress, or even a victory.


That’s why I was glad when our girl stomped away from the iPad. I believed then and believe now that if she cared enough to be frustrated, she’d be back to try again. Soon enough she wrangled those scalene punks into a telescope and got to fish letters out of the stars as a reward. (If you ever hear someone question the value of video games, show them that last sentence).

I know the feeling that lit her up when she finished that telescope. It’s what I felt when I finally played that G chord, which is probably why I still mostly play that one chord. It just feels so good.

I’d like our future optical engineer to rage-quit about once a week, so long as she keeps coming back for more. Temporarily giving up tells me she’s progressing. She’s scaling higher and higher walls. She’s setting her sights on grips beyond her reach, and then she’s reaching them.

All this makes me wonder why I haven’t rage-quit much lately. Maybe I’ve outgrown it. Maybe I just don't play enough Halo anymore. Maybe I should try Leo’s Pad.