The Games People Don’t Play

The Games People Don’t Play

We are in the middle of a massive reorganization of several different rooms in our house,  and it makes us feel like prime candidates for one of those shows like “Clean Sweep.”  What set all of this in motion was the purchase of our new television set,  which necessitated that we move our entertainment center and old TV upstairs into the loft – disconnect our Tivo and try to reconnect it with one of the sets upstairs – and in the midst of all that,  find a place for the thousands of videotapes and DVDs that we have but which have been scattered all over the house in various locales.  Call it a reordering of our entertainment resources. (That makes it sound like an undertaking worth all of this time and trouble.)

We had about 300 of our videotapes stashed in the closet of our studio – actually stacked on a set of bookshelves which we parked in the closet (it seemed like a good idea at the time) while on the shelf of the closet itself were piled 52 different games.  The pile was precarious enough that it resembled a giant- sized version of Jenga.  Do you know the game I’m talking about? You take turns pulling piece out of a tall wooden tower and the person who causes the tower to collapse loses.   That’s what this was like, and when you pulled Tri Bond out from the bottom, you ran the considerably risk of having a tin of 96 dominoes, three versions of Trivial Pursuit, and the collector’s edition of Monopoly come crashing down on you.   So I came up with the bright idea of removing the videotapes and taking them upstairs,  and then moving the games to these shelves where they would prove much less of a threat to life and limb.

As I shelved those games (an exercise akin to packing multiple suitcases into one automobile trunk)  I couldn’t help but lament the fact that game-playing has become a sadly infrequent part of our lives.  Once upon a time, it seems like we spent tons of time either sitting at our own dining room table or someone else’s playing games.  But then we got busy,  our friends got busy,  and this is one of the things that really got crowded out of the picture.  And I am hoping that the simple act of making our games more accessible (and less apt to cause us a concussion) will maybe lead us to reach for them a bit more often as we reach for the TV remote or the laptop a bit less.

Our game collection is a wonderful mix of old and new / tried & true and all-but-unknown / loud & boisterous and quiet & slow / simple & complicated . . . (and nothing at all in the video game genre / Pong was as fancy as I needed to be)  and in some cases just a glance at the box brings back such wonderful memories:

Yahtzee – or as our niece calls it,  Lasagna.   I don’t know how far back this game goes for Kathy,  but this is the predominant game of my childhood – and playing it makes me think of vacations in northern Minnesota from three or four decades ago.  And I think it might have been the last time I played this game that my wife rolled three Yahtzees- which happens when you manage to get five of the same die in three rolls or less.   Getting even one Yahtzee in a game is fairly rare – three in one game feels like a sign of the apocalypse.

Scrabble –  this is another game that brings back the sweetest memories of long ago family vacations – and I especially think of my Great Aunt Gertrude, who was so good at it.   I also remember being on choir tour during college and getting into an incredibly intense Scrabble game on the bus –  classmate Tim Ness and I squaring off against two women in the choir. . .  and as the game came to its dramatic climax, we did our best to convince our opponents that <misdoven> was a word.  (You could use it in a sentence such as:  He might have won the meet had he not misdoven so badly.)   I can’t remember for sure whether they bought it or not – but to this day that feels like the worst ball-faced lie I’ve ever told someone.

Sequence – We played this for the very first time while visiting our Carthage friend Leslie Gluck – and what immediately struck us was that this was a perfect game if you have people of various ages wanting to play together.  We also loved the fact that this is a game that does not require batteries. . .  nor a masters degree to figure out how its played.  It’s blessedly simple and also a game where it’s easy to talk while you play it.   (How surprising that Greg Berg would appreciate that facet in a game.)

Trivial Pursuit – We have spent many memorable hours with this game or one of its incarnations,  including an amazing night in which Kathy and I played with our friends the Thorsens.   Playford,  by this point silenced because of his ALS,  “typed” out his answers on his computer screen . . . and lo and behold, the husbands beat the wives that night.  (So to speak.)   Pre-Kathy, I also remember playing this with my family and being so impressed with how good my sister was at making up simple questions for a church member to answer, such as “What sport requires a stick and a puck?”   I can also remember the Berg family playing this game with family friends who seemed to be utterly incapable of answering so much as a single question correctly – and even making up simpler questions didn’t help.  I remember my folks being rather taken aback that people could be so incredibly  “out of it” – and yet this did not change their love for these folks one iota.

Taboo – One of the all-time classics. . .  in which you need to get your teammates to guess a given word,  but you can’t say any of five forbidden “taboo” words.  I adore this game – I’m good at it – and it’s probably the game I most hate losing. (Which is saying something.)

Boggle –  You shake a box of 16 letter cubes,  and when they settle into their tray,  you see how many words you can find hidden in those letters.   Playing that with Randi was always an exercise in humiliation because I would find “dog’ and “cat” and she would find words like “diatribe.”  And the time she played it with Marshall’s father (one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met)    I felt like Charley from “Flowers from Algernon” by comparison.

Catch Phrase –  Another fast-moving game. . . sort of a cross between $100,000 Pyramid and Hot Potato, and I don’t know how to easily explain it beyond that.   But one of my fondest memories of this is of playing it with Kathy’s family when her mom was still with us.  During each round, there would be this timer thing that would incessantly beep –  and I remember how Polly would surreptitiously slip the beeper underneath the table whenever it was Jan’s turn,  so she wouldn’t be quite so distracted by the sound and would have an easier time focusing – which by that point in time was tremendously difficult for her.  I just love the tenderness of that secret little gesture on Polly’s part.     This game also makes me think of Carthage students – back in the days when we hosted the huge Christmas Festival party – and playing with them (or even with alums) makes me feel like a 70-year-old trying to play volleyball with the high school varsity.  It’s an exhilarating challenge- but exhausting!

Encore –  The challenge is to be able to sing at least seven words -with the correct melody – of a song that has whatever word comes up in the cards.   If I’m paired with someone who knows top 40 pop songs,  we are unbeatable , because I bring to the table the texts for almost every hymn in the Christian world plus the texts of British and American art songs plus a wide swath of the world of the Broadway musical.  My all-time favorite moment, though,  was in playing this game with my family and my brother Steve was able to win a round for us by singing the opening line to the theme music for Captain America. . . “When Captain America throws his mighty shield. . . “   You never know when some sliver of insignificant minutia in your brain will come in very handy.

Blink! –  This is another fairly simply game that is not easy to describe,  but at its heart and soul,  it’s a race to match colors, numbers and shapes –  which makes it a game that little kids can play as well as adults. . .   and I can still feel the same sting I felt the first time Anneka Barrow beat me at this game.   She was probably 7 years old at the time.

And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg. . .  so many games,  so little time . . . and some of them barely out of the  box.  Pass the Bomb,  Fill or Bust,  Guesstures, Outburst, 25 Words or Less, Channel Surfing, Pictionary, and many many more.   And yes, Jenga.   They say Family.  They say Friendship.  They say Fun.   And we need more of them in all of our lives.