The Games People Play


My youngest son has taken to playing backroom games. There are no cigars being puffed or cigarettes being lit. Fast women are a thing of fantasy, along with tumblers of bourbon and Scotch whisky. It's a wholesome place. A little dingy with its folding chairs and long tables and a lot overcrowded with posters and high shelves laden with inventory. But it is a place where people convene to roll their designer dice and take a chance. It’s at The Game Preserve.

Hobby games have become a $700 million industry in the United States. - COURTESY OF THE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
  • Hobby games have become a $700 million industry in the United States.

Last Wednesday evening, my 10-year-old took his place there among the high rollers who were double his age (and then some. And in his first game of Dungeons and Dragons, he held his own. As his mother -- who sat in the corner of the gaming room –- I couldn't have been more proud or confused.

My son's love for games is somewhat perplexing, since I come from a family whose game repertoire was completely limited. Our collection was comprised of about four to five games in the bottom of the downstairs coat closet.

It included a deck of tattered cards with at least three missing at any given time. (Just think of those lone socks awaiting the discovery of their match in your laundry room and think just how long they've been awaiting their mate.) That deck of 52 cards ... well, more like 48, give or take ... managed to turn our Concentration game into a yelling match about the unlucky sucker who ended up the four of spades, the queen of clubs and the 10 of hearts with no rank or color match.

Then there was the box containing Sorry! Again, we were reckless sisters in play and lost various pieces. This was usually due to the fact that we threw them at the player who said sorry and really, really didn't mean it. Monopoly and Scrabble both came out of the closet once a year, usually during Christmas break when we were bored enough to sit through such lengthy games.

And let us not forget Candyland. This was typically reserved for when my sisters and I were sick and home from school. My poor mother. She had to play it over and over again with her little dummies who thought they were such strategist, such victors. We gloated our wins about a game where there is not one angle to be played, no strategy involved in any way, shape or form. Players are never required to make choices since the winner is predetermined by the shuffle of the cards. But my lovely mom made us feel that we were champs anyway. Well played, mom. Well played.

Games have held an important place in our culture, from the dice found in ancient Mesopotamia, to the beloved poker-playing pooches of C.M. Coolidge's famous work of art.  - COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • Games have held an important place in our culture, from the dice found in ancient Mesopotamia, to the beloved poker-playing pooches of C.M. Coolidge's famous work of art.

Because you, my reader, are not a little dummy, you're probably thinking that my son got his gaming prowess from his father's side. Not so fast, Smarty. His family's coat closet had the same deck of tattered cards and about three large puzzles. So along with a lack of games, there were no heated arguments, just a serene collaborative effort among family members. Did I mention just how different our families were?

But George has taken to games since he was a little boy. He was exploring chess at 3 and playing the war card game and really good games of American checkers at the age of 4. He started playing euchre at 7 and continually looks to quench his thirst for a new challenge. But do games really make us more creative?

Kevin and Dave who work at The Game Preserve say they most definitely do. “I believe games make us more resourceful and in many collaborative games, we learn to work together,” says Dave, a shop veteran of 20 years. He explains that ones like Pandemic encourage players to work together, and good old reliable chess encourages the development of sound analytical skills. I'm not sure that the words collaborative and analytical are in any formal definition of creative, but they're important skills that I think we can all agree would somehow aid in the creative process.

There is something altogether good about people gathering together around a table. It's good that they look at each other. It's good that they talk. (Both are exercises that are missing from handheld video games.) It's good that they plan and execute, rally and rejoice. Games tap into something all of us need -- from the 10-year-old halfling to the 30-year-old Dungeon Master. Playing them prepares us for the hard lives ahead and provides us a break from it too.

Games are a good thing. So what are you waiting for? It's your move.

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