Ludo ergo sum

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.


Slippery thinking

I don’t know what prompts certain memories. It’s a bit like getting a tune stuck in your head all day, but without the music. For no good reason my thoughts have been sliding around sliding, and ultimately why butter is bad for you.

Out of the blue I started remembering about the tea tray game from when I was little. My friend and I would dare each other, successfully I’m afraid, to slide down the stairs on a tin tea tray. We only did it at her house because (1) her mother didn’t seem too worried about it and (2) she had the tray. Both of these were critical success factors. Also her stairs were straighter and the hallway a little bit longer. It was the perfect combination for successful tea tray related activity in a semi-perpendicular (yet stepped) environment.

Obviously this led me to also recall the other sliding we did as children, down the side of the flyover on cardboard. If we were lucky. Otherwise it was grass stains and grazed knees, and on one memorable occasion a broken collar bone for a boy who got carried away with how clever he was at sliding down backwards. We would hurtle down the slope into the ditch at the bottom, and you had to aim just right else you hit the nettles. The drivers going over the flyover seemed less concerned than my friend’s mother did about the tea tray.

SlideI suppose it all started when I was even smaller and we used to play on the slide in the park. It was a very high slide, built a bit like the watch towers at a prisoner of war camp. There was a wooden platform surrounded by wooden planks that were too high to see over unless you were at least seven, and the slide itself was taller than our parent. We went down it forwards, backwards, tummy side down or up, in pairs (although not all of those things at once). Sometimes the slide was not very slippery so we greased it with butter (or marge, in extremis) to make ourselves go faster. We took it in turns to steal the butter for home.

There was a crater at the end of the slide where we all shot off and landed, occasionally feet first. If it was raining it turned into a large, muddy morass, and landing in that was definitely too slimy for words, so on wet days you had to be able to build up enough speed to jump over the crater as you came shooting off the end of the slide.

I cannot begin to tell you the trouble we got into for the state of our clothes.

And that, my dears, is why butter is bad for you.


Snow Dalek

Yesterday in breaks from decluttering, I sat and sipped tea and read. Sigoth, however, is a man of action, and went outside to play in the snow.








It looked more sinister after dark!










For those of you with snow, I hope you manage to have some fun with it too!




Running Wild

One of the main things I do remember about growing up is the fact I was never stuck in the house (unless I wanted to be). I would be out playing with friends and running fairly wild without any parental neuroticism holding me back.

We lived opposite a recreation ground, and if I wasn’t over there jumping off swings at the top of the arc, I would be catching stickleback in the stream or climbing trees or making dens in the tall grass along the side of the stream, and generally getting muddy.When I was quite little I would play in the park while my mother kept half an eye on me from the living room window; as I got older I wandered all over the place with friends.

Obviously there were worries about cars but I was expected to understand how to cross a road safely so I did. I cycled on my own to visit friends who lived further away. In general the concept I am describing is “permission to wander”. Thinking back it would have been completely bizarre for children not to play out with friends.

As children we were told not to take sweets from strangers or get into their cars – amazing we survived. There were times when we weren’t allowed to go over to the Common because there was “a man in the bushes”, but after a few days it was OK again. I assumed he moved on to other horticultural pursuits.

This kind of activity I am describing is nowadays associated with more rural areas, I think. Where I live now, a small village, the children do still wander to a greater extent than in the market town nearby. But the lack of public transport makes it hard for them to wander too far. It also means they are driven by parents rather than having to manage for themselves on the bus, further increasing their dependency. This is not the fault of over-protective “helicopter” parents; it is a systemic failure of government to fund and encourage the development of sustainable public transport. In more urban areas the high volume of cars means that roads are now busier than ever, and a similar failure of public transport further contributes to the vicious cycle (no pun intended).

And yet did I let my children do it? Not much. I worried about traffic. Other parents worried about paedophiles, or gang culture, or whatever. It’s a strange world where we think it is better not to trust our children and to allow them to grow up so secluded and inexperienced that they don’t know how to manage on their own. I don’t think they are less able than I was; in fact I am sure they are considerably more able. The complexity and pace of life may have changed but the basic principles still work, and our basic needs remain the same.