On being … game

By Ingrid Sapona

No, today’s column isn’t something ripped from the headlines about Nintendo’s release of Pokémon Go. As it happens, last month I started a column about enjoying old-fashioned games – you know, board games, card games, and the like, that you play with people in person. But, I scrapped the idea then because I figured such games might be passé. But, with this week’s news about Pokémon – and some of the perils encountered by those playing it – I decided that old-fashioned games deserve equal time.

The topic of games was on my mind after friends and I finally got together for a “games night” a few weeks ago. We had been talking about doing so since last fall, but we never managed to find an evening. The topic came up again when we ran into each other in May, but we agreed the odds of us finding time for a game night in the near future was unlikely, as summer weekends inevitably fill up with concerts, barbeques, sailing, and other activities.

Then we had a brilliant idea: since we’re all sailors, why not sail our boats over to a nearby club for an overnight stay and some games. So, we agreed on the date, the destination, what games we’d bring, and who’d bring what for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. 

The weather cooperated and it was great! We did have to laugh, however, when we realized on Sunday morning that we had only played one game. Feeling a bit guilty, we played one more after breakfast, before heading out for our voyages home. On my sail back I couldn’t help smiling and thinking about how the games night was, in large part, an excuse for an afternoon and evening of delicious food, drinking (no one was driving home, after all), and great conversation.

A few days later I was telling this story to another friend (I’ll call her Anne) and we got to talking about the social aspects of playing board games and card games. Growing up we didn’t play that many as a family. But, for the past 20 years or so, games have become a central feature of our family’s holiday get-togethers.

Anne commented on the fact that when her daughter was little, she realized the important socialization skills we learn by playing such games with others. She explained that because the way she and her family interacted while playing games was very different from the way her husband’s family interacted, her daughter learned how to read people and adapt to different styles.

I could totally relate to what she was saying because I know that the way our family plays word games is very different from the way others do. We play them kind of communally. Each person comes up with their own words on their turn, but once they’ve made their play (or if they’re ready to give up in frustration), we all jump in and see if we can rearrange the letters to come up with more points. If we improve the score, the points go to the person whose turn it was. I know, it may seem odd, but this way we’re all sort of invested in each play. I think it helps that we’re all only mildly competitive – so we keep score, but given the way we all contribute on each hand, the winner’s bragging rights don’t amount to much.

Anyway, with the topic of games suddenly in the news, I decided to write about the virtues of getting together for some old fashioned games. Mind you, in singing the praises of such games, I’m not impugning digital games. Heaven knows I’ve passed many an enjoyable few minutes (OK, maybe the odd hour here or there) playing them. But every time I pick up the iPad or sit at the computer and play something, I’m very aware that it’s more time spent alone, rather than in the company of others.

I know, for many folks, the alone time is part of the appeal of digital games. I also realize that there are other benefits to digital games. Some are tools for learning. Some are useful for improving physical dexterity. (Any readers old enough to remember when computer mice were introduced will remember learning to use the mouse by playing solitaire on the computer.) And, Pokémon Go has already been credited with getting folks off the couch and out into their neighborhoods as they chase the Pokémon characters who – thanks to technology called “augmented reality” – magically appear superimposed on the real world on their smart phone screen.

I guess all I really want to say in closing is that if you’re thinking that maybe you’d like to augment your reality a bit this summer – there are alternatives to high tech games. Why not augment the reality of what would otherwise be an ordinary Saturday night by inviting some (real) friends to join you at your table for some old fashioned games? Who knows what laughter,  conversation, and bonding might ensue…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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