My daughter, V, calls them “gamies.” V is 23 months old and already a game aficionado. She loves to play Dora The Explorer Memory, a rather hectic and random version of Candyland, and Hi-Ho Cherry-O (though we have to watch her like a hawk with the cherries). She “plays” cribbage with us; her version is really a card game of war where my hand is randomly selected and she keeps track of her “points” using the cribbage board. Yep, in our household, we start playing games early.
My husband can technically be given the traditional title of “gamer.” He plays those Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy and assorted role-playing games; basically your average nerd stuff (yep, I love me some nerds). When we were dating, I impressed him with my willingness to try my hand at Magic, Samurai Swords, 007 Goldeneye, and other games I haven’t touched since I got a ring on my finger (I maintain that this really wasn’t intentional…but it’s true!). I remain the household champion of Warhammer Fantasy as the two games I have played with him over the course of 12 years I won (with a lot of assistance since I have no idea what I was doing). Really, I know they weren’t serious victories and that while not “letting me win,” he certainly was being a good sport. V has already had her baby interest peaked as she helps Daddy paint his Warhammer figurines and rolls the dice for him during their excursions to the local game store for Warhammer Fantasy games.
Despite M’s greater commitment to the gaming world, I have to say, I am a gamer’s wife. I like playing somewhat obscure board games: Agricola, Bonanza, Race for the Galaxy, Cave Troll, Aladdin’s Dragons, and Guillotine. Though I also love traditional games like Monopoly and Clue, I have enjoyed the world my husband has opened up for me; we have spent many pleasant hours together playing two player board games (Cold War, War and Sheep, Balloon Cup).
Growing up, some of my favorite times with my family involved games. We would play board games and classic Nintendo on New Year’s Eve, munching giant bags of popcorn we picked up at the local supermarket. On rainy days, as we spent summers at our cabin in “Up North” Michigan, we entertained ourselves with game after game of Yahtzee and Solarquest. I loved cozy winter days where we would map out quests of Zelda with my parents, and watch my dad swing the remote control as he tried to get that little Mario dude to jump already. These moments may seem simple, but they linger like a worry stone in my pocket, I caress them in my memory because they are times we enjoyed as a family.
I think enjoying board games is kind of a litmus test for belonging in my husband’s family. I know where my husband gets his love of games, as I have spent more hours at my in-laws’ dining room table over a board game than I can count. We have some competitive folks in our family (no names mentioned…um, cough) so we keep it crazy when the games are going on. We have the rule-obsesser, the lucky and deceptively confused trickster, the coy diplomat who relies on her niceness to avoid attacks from other players, the difficult to beat champion who explains rule after rule with infinite patience, the prone to whine if losing individual (I think we’ve all taken a turn with this role). Despite the fact that games have resulted in some notorious, humorous exchanges (someone being called a “tw*t,” someone shouting “F, F, F”, sulking silences) we LOVE the gaming family ritual. It is time we spent together, enjoying each other’s foibles and the fun of the game. I don’t know who we would be as a family without board games. They are present at every family gathering, formal or informal.
M and I have spent many an evening working out some stress through board games. We spent sleepless nights during graduate school, through some marital struggles, and during my pregnancy playing mindless games of cribbage and backgammon. We have played our way through the pain of family illnesses and deaths, when you need a distraction from the hurt but you just don’t feel like talking. Games mean something in our family; they are a means of connection. They are time spent. They are a medium for working things out when tensions are high.
So I’m glad our daughter is joining in the spirit of her family by professing an early love of “gamies.” I hope we will have many enjoyable evenings that will linger in her memory as her childhood fades; evenings where we’ll pull out a game from the pantry (we keep games rather than food in ours) and settle in for a laugh. I hope games will be a way for us to keep connected in a world where people increasingly isolate themselves through individual activities and impersonal technologies. For us, I can’t imagine life without games.