Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Sweet G--"Games People Play" (mp3)

Having spent a fair amount of time during the snow days last week, finishing Black Ops main game and then killing zombies online while teamed up, at times, with what sound like 10-year-old children defending the other doors, I thought I'd better finally fess up.

I am a gamer.

That's not my first video game. On the Nintendo 64, I loved Mario Kart. It was fun to play with my children. On the Playstation 2, I played hours of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games. On the Wii, I like playing the sports--tennis, basketball, golf, baseball, ping-pong, etc. And when my children stopped playing, I kept playing. After all, we originally bought the game systems for them, didn't we?

On my current cell phone, I have Bounce Out Ball-0-Rama, Madden NFL 10, SPIT!, Schizoid, and UNO. On my Ipod, Bubble Bash, Chalkboard Sports Baseball, Mystery Mansion Pinball, Peggle, Reversi, and Zuma. I even play games on my Kindle, games like Every Word. If I'm sitting in a bathroom, either two doors down in my office or in the Belk department store, there's a pretty good chance I'm playing SPIT! Even Fantasy Football is nothing but a game.

I have always been a gamer, at least for as long as I can remember. My very earliest memories include playing Checkers with my grandfather on his magnetized checkerboard that he could fold up and carry everywhere in his pocket. My other grandfather built, sanded, and varnished a Yahtzee set, which was eventually passed on to us. And, in fact, all of the families that I come from thrived on games as both family and social activities. My dad is a card person, who still plays poker regularly, and who also once enjoyed Bridge, Hearts, and Pinochle. My mother belonged to not one, but two, Bridge clubs. Their parents before them also enjoyed all kinds of cards and games. I remember as a child the time I got to go to and participate in a party at my grandparents where everyone was playing Pirate Bingo (you know, when you win, you can either claim a new prize or steal one from someone who's already won).

Childhood, of course, largely consisted of games. Beyond sports, there were the outside summer night games like Kick The Can or Capture The Flag and schoolyard recess games like Steal The Bacon, or even Spin the Bottle. When inside with friends on days too hot or too cold, marathon games of everything from Monopoly and Risk to Life and Clue filled the long afternoons.

As an early teenager, when we would travel to my grandparent's lake house in Ontario, the evening entertainment always consisted of communal games of Scat or Dirty Dog, card games that required a $0.15 investment from each player, but that were conducted with the ferocity of high-stakes Texas Hold'Em. Around that table each night, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my mother, my cousins, my brother and I would share jokes and strategies, victories and bitter disappointments.

College, it was pinball. In the early years, pinball in the arcades; in the later years, pinball, or maybe Space Invaders, in the bars. We figured out ways to play against each other and in teams, like when each person gets only one flipper and you try to coordinate motion.

I have a friend who lives for Golden Tee. Many evening on Bourbon Street, we have climbed to the top floor of a bar to play it, or air hockey, or foosball. Many evenings in Seoul, Korea, we would take a cab to Itaewon, the American section, and climb to the third floor of a bar to play Golden Tee. And though I have mocked his obsession to him many times, I get it. I fully get it. He's a gamer, too. He likes the competition, the winning, the other world of the game.

I'm not here to defend games--their obvious social and mental benefits aside (a student was just in here telling me that Tetris is being used to bring calmness to veterans). I'll leave that to someone else.

No, I'm here just to make a couple of observations. First, that if you continue to play games as you get older, you end up playing them by yourself. At some point, the Bible and society told us to put away childish things. For many people, that means games. Here are some of the messages: "Games are silly," "This is a waste of time," "You know, you could be painting the basement," "Gambling is dangerous and sleazy." People who didn't play games as a child are now afraid of them. People who didn't spend time on them just don't see the point. People who didn't play children's games aren't interested in the games that children are playing now.

Second, if you play games in the modern world, you end up playing them by yourself. When you play UNO on your cell phone, you don't need the other players. When your computer chess opponent is kicking your ass, you can just turn it off. When you engage in multiplayer games like Black Ops online, you may be playing with other people, but unless you are part of a group of gamers, you will probably have no idea who those other people are. And if you aren't very good or just learning, they won't pick you for the next game.

Old games like Bridge or Parcheesi that require learning complex rules are dying out; new games don't really require other people. Some of the old games I enjoyed as a child seem stupid even to me when I ponder them in the modern context. And so, I'm wondering, even though games are playing an ever-increasing role in our society, are they offering the benefits that they once did? Are games a norm of family activities? Are they a source of friendly competition? Are they ever the focus of a social gathering? Beyond the occasional poker night for the guys, I don't know.

There is a reason why Solitaire continues to be so popular, but was it meant to be the standard game experience? Wasn't it Cher who once sang, "Sooner or later, we all game alone?"

Note: the two-space rule was not used in the construction of this blogpost.


goofytakemyhand said...

At some point, the Bible and society told us to put away childish things.

James McMurtry: probably not a gamer

Daisy said...

This was the Christmas/Hanukkah of the board game in my house. My kids received 1/2 a dozen old school games like trouble and monopoly and they love them. They love them enough to turn off the wii to play them. Maybe family game night isn't going the way of the double space yet.

Hank said...

I was surprised at how popular board games and puzzles were with our students during the snowpocalypse. I saw several heated games of Monopoly & even Life. Kind of refreshing.

troutking21 said...

Much as I loved my Atari and my Colecovision and my Commodore 64, I did put away video games after my college Tetris obsession. When I started having dreams about falling blocks and seeing them in the bathroom tile floor, I knew it was time.

Billy said...

I love video games or cell phone games -- I used to love Yahoo! games, too, but have all but avoided Facebook games -- but few of them provide me the genuine and deep thrill of games where other people are involved. As cures for boredom when on the john, they're great. But even CoD or Rock Band, games I totally love, pale to the joy I feel when playing LIFE with my daughters or meeting my coworkers for our monthly poker game.

Angry Birds was another fine example of a very brief distraction/obsession. Bridge takes a lifetime to master; Angry Birds takes about three days.

We had a party over the Christmas holiday centered around playing games from "Minute to Win It," and I look forward to trying something like that again.

JessP said...

You have no idea how excited I am to see your blog. I have such fond memories of my grandmother and great aunt & uncle playing Dirty Dog but no one left alive now remembers how to play. Do you know the rules and could you share them with me? I would apprecite it so much!