It’s Why You Play the Game That Counts
I was sipping my second cup of creamer-laded coffee when I learned that classic board games were “getting a speed boost.” The article in the business section of the daily paper grabbed my attention. It touted marketers who are reinventing our best-loved pastimes to accommodate busier lives and shorter attention spans. These newly tailored versions of old time favorites will now only take 20 minutes to play. I guess it was just a matter of time before family game night took the express route.
I used to live with a group of guys who needed 20 minutes just to decide which game to play. That made it hard to imagine this acceleration. These new versions suggest that I’d concede defeat to any one of my three sons or my husband in about the same amount of time it takes to microwave a meatloaf dinner. Up until now, the only game we played that fast was Perfection and that’s because there’s a 60-second timer built in.
It’s not new that families today are moving at the speed of life. I’m referring to jam-packed schedules, not the board game. Even so, when my sons were little (under 5 years old), my husband, Nick and I made time to sit crossed legged on the family room floor and try our luck at Candy Land (Chutes and Ladders, Memory, Hi-Ho Cherri-o! or whatever game caught their interest that week).
This usually meant that we’d end up on the losing side of these encounters, often on purpose. I learned early on that if I won, it automatically signaled that I’d be challenged to another game, where I was guaranteed to come in last. A single game could easily evolve into the best of seven series for Candy Land supremacy and household bragging rights.
A typical scenario went something like this: After a preschool-age Shawn (or Jake or Seth) “randomly” shuffled the cards and placed them on the board, Shawn (or Jake or Seth) would pull the Queen Frostine card and be transported mere spaces away from certain victory. This was a long-standing family mystery that could only be matched by my uncanny ability to pick the Plumpy card and be banished to the space marked with a plum at the start of Candy Land game board. Defeat was certain. Their eyes held a twinkle of glee at their imminent triumph as I hammed-up my disappointment at being sent back to the beginning.
The roles of teacher and student switched and I was hearing my words of comfort coming out of their mouths. “Don’t worry, Mom. You’ll win next time. Don’t give up. Just keep trying.”
These early years of playing games designed for the under-7-set passed quickly. During this wonderful opportunity, my boys learned how to count their moves correctly, not fight over the green gingerbread marker, play fair and be a good loser. Years later I realized that they had become competent adversaries, no longer needing a stacked deck to insure a victory. The tables had turned and I often found myself trying my best just to make a good showing. The roles of teacher and student switched and I was hearing my words of comfort coming out of their mouths. “Don’t worry, Mom. You’ll win next time. Don’t give up. Just keep trying.”
My next strategy was to engage the guys in games where I thought I had an edge. However, I didn’t have much success mustering up enthusiasm for a rousing game of hopscotch. Everyone claimed to be too busy or too tired to be lured into a heated round of jacks and I swear someone–probably Nick–hid my Mystery Date game. I guess they didn’t like those odds. But just mention Cranium, Scattergories or the sports version of Scene It? and all of a sudden holes in their schedules magically open up.
As they got older, my sons’ interest in playing games with our family stayed constant. Those lazy afternoons filled with Monopoly, Double Trouble or Clue transformed into Catch Phrase, Balderdash or Spoons. The game selection has changed and there might not be an actual board involved anymore, but we still play. Our game nights expanded to include spouses and a larger circle of friends. We love sharing the laughter, the joys of competition and just being together. No one is concerned about how long it takes.
This is why I’m not convinced that faster is better. There’s still a place for the luxury of the steady, slow pace of playing games. These new twists on the classics that rev up the time it takes to finish may be fixing something that isn’t really broken. There’s always tomorrow. If bedtime shows up before our game of Monopoly is done, we just move it — board and all — to the top of our seldom-used dining room table.
Tonight, if I’m lucky, the TV, the computer and the video game system will get turned off. My family will stop by and debate who wants to be the racecar, the dog, the iron, the top hat, the boot or the wheelbarrow. Me, I’m always the thimble. Choosing our playing pieces for Monopoly; now that’s something we can finish in 20 minutes or less.