On a more cheerful note from yesterday’s moan, I can also report to anyone still reading that I played many games over Easter with the Offspringses and Sigoth. My goodness, we do like games in this family. I don’t mean those boring video games either, I mean good, solid, frequently German, board games or card games.
When Sigoth and I were young sprouts playing about with this new-fangled notion called “home computing” we played some of the early games available: Donkey Kong was a favourite along with one involving running about in corridors being chased by a dinosaur. It was a ZX Spectrum game and may have had “Escape” in the title; it certainly had it in the raison d’être. Often Sigoth typed the game in directly, which was more interesting than the game itself, but such is life. The journey may exceed the destination.
One weekend a friend came to stay with us in our appalling basement student flat. It was genuinely appalling. There was a toad living in the bathroom under a fungal growth, and mice in every nook and cranny. It was cold and dark and damp. I was ill with bronchitis and had to sit up all night in the armchair for two or three nights because I was unable to breathe if I lay down. Feral dogs wandered the backyards, and one day we were trapped indoors by one which had decided not to allow us out into its territory. But in compensation there was also a kestrel hunting on the waste ground behind the terraces next to the little shop where the pints of milk were frozen solid in winter and rancid in summer. Oh, my dears, the views across the valley at night made constellations and rivers of light!
We therefore had to distract our friend when she visited because she was (and is) a gently bred soul. Mice and toads and feral dogs are not her beverage of choice. So we introduced her to Donkey Kong and she played it for hours, jumping in her seat every time she jumped a barrel on screen. It was more entertaining to watch than playing the game.
The same friend also loves board games and we play every time she visits, even though we no longer have a toad or a feral dog, and the mice only visit briefly in winter when the fields are frozen over.
There are a very wide range of games now available. We don’t play the old classics so often now the Offspringses have grown up, games like Monopoly or Scrabble or Cluedo. We play games like one of the Catan series, or Seven Wonders, or Carcassone or Alhambra or Inkognito or Dominion or Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot. Some of these games are co-operative games, where you play together to beat the game itself, for example by curing a deadly virus before it wipes out the human race. They require thought and discussion and strategy. They are, as young people nowadays are wont to say, mint.
We played, my dears, and then we played a computer-based game. Normally, as I have intimated, I find these quite boring when I don’t have a friend to watch bouncing in her chair with frustration. This one was a networked game though, called Artemis, and we piloted our starship across the known galaxy in a simulation that was completely unlike, for reasons of intellectual property, Star Trek. There were stars and nebulae and aliens and space stations. Otherwise hardly any similarities at all. It was hilarious fun.
Why do we do it? Not just this family, but humans? Why do we play? Honestly, humankind are all just big kids who never grow up. We drink milk (often) until we die instead of moving on to adult food when weaned, and we play like babies. Other species use play as a tool to learn. Humans use it as a tool to do anything but.
As a family we enjoyed pretending to be other people in another time and place, on a starship in a galaxy far, far away instead of being ourselves together. The escapism and shared enterprise (if I may call it that) allowed us to be one big happy family without having to work hard to be one big happy family. Real families and relationships take effort, but game play is easy, so long as it isn’t Diplomacy and everyone plays the game for its own sake rather than to win. We are British game players and it’s the taking part that matters.
Taking part – that is crucial. We play games to build our sense of community, society even. Sports replace war, as Desmond Morris liked to claim, and sports fans recreate tribal behaviours. When we beat South Africa 25-17 (I was there!) or when we place the final card that defeats the Evil Sorceror / cures the purple virus / completes the mission, we feel triumph and a rush of excitement and love for our fellow game players / fans. Even when the game is competitive, if it was well played we can all take some pleasure from something well-executed or nimbly done.
I love playing games. I love that they have no real point, and that somehow that is the point.