Just yesterday I was engaged in conversation with a close friend who has a Ph.D., is close to retirement, and is concerned about having a lot of free time and not knowing what to do with it. I suggested, “Maybe you could take up a hobby.” I remember that I enjoyed his response; it was something along the lines of, “I don’t think so. I am a bit of a serious person. [This is true]. I want what I do to have meaning.” Ouch.
Last week I ended with a few of the salient benefits of Board Gaming. This week I’d like to offer up a few quick thoughts on three of those benefits that I believe often go unnoticed. They are what I will call, a sense of the heroic, an empowered imagination and lastly, the utility of strategic thinking. The idea is that Board Games are time well spent and have real value relevant to real life.
Some of the best people I know are avid gamers and they can talk endlessly about the role of gaming and how it has shaped who they are. From a unique small business perspective, my staff and I have often remarked – with sincerity – that we have some of the nicest, most courteous and friendly customers of any business we have ever worked for. Yep – I think to myself – that’s because they are gamers.
So much of humanities problems are wrapped up in thoughtlessness and self-centeredness. These qualities are stifled at the Game table. When you are gaming, you are punished for thoughtlessness at every corner; you are 3 cards down, 15 points behind, your Camel didn’t win the leg, your farmer didn’t yield a bountiful harvest, you are out of contention and ashamed. As for self-centeredness, the Gaming table has no interest in you. No one wants to spend 3+ hours stuck at a table with someone who “just doesn’t get it”, who doesn’t bring a spirit of fun, friendliness and good-gamership to the table.
Gaming demands that you consider others and that you consider your own thoughts, movements, actions and speech very carefully. Tread thoughtfully and behave yourself if you would like a seat at this table. Nobody, of course, says that or even thinks that and gamers are quite the welcoming troupe. It’s not the people who exclude you, it’s the Games themselves. The Games will not allow you to remain your selfish, unthinking self. They will beat it out of you. They demand more, they demand better.
So, a few quick thoughts: (They are never that quick though, are they?)
Sense of the heroic.
I doubt anyone will debate that we are currently enjoying a cultural resurgence of both Board Games and Comics/Super Heroes. Sales are up, production is up, Sheldon Cooper is a household name; it’s a good time to be a geek.
But what is it all about? Why the resurgence and what use is it to the world? I’ll suggest just one thing here.
Super-heroes may seem, at times, absurd or silly or over-the-top but heroism is real, exists in this world and is needed. Super-heroes may not be real but heroism is and heroism needs to be inspired in us. We look to great books, historical figures, films, and I would suggest, great games, to inspire our sense of the heroic. Heroism is not just a once-in-a-lifetime act of bravery or sacrifice – rescuing someone from a burning building – it is daily. It is responding to conflict with calmness, facing our own personal fears and striving for personal growth when complacency is more comfortable, supporting an idea or a friend when we have something to lose in the process, loving a spouse or loved when through an illness or a damaged relationship; it’s everything from treating a neighbor with love to providing food or clean water to someone who doesn’t have it on the other side of the world. Heroism is every day life, micro-decisions that add up, and we all need sources of inspiration to keep that flame burning. Great games develop that sense in us, the desire to struggle for good over evil, the desire to improve, grow and get better, the desire to compete against a challenge and triumph over it. Role-playing games in particular force us to make decisions about who we are, what we value and how we will respond to a variety of imagined encounters. They are like a great film or book but you are in an active seat, you determine the narrative and you act out your decisions, there is nothing quite like it.
An empowered imagination.
I’m no expert but at some point I began to realize how important the role of our imagination is to our every day lives. We can only be and do what we imagine is possible and we act out of our imagined sense of what the world can and should be like. I imagine, therefore I am. Our ability to respond to a problem or solve a problem is limited chiefly by our imagination. The more we can clearly imagine a brave new world, the more empowered we are to create it. A dull imagination leaves us anemic and inert, we have no vision of what could be, we just sort of coast along with glazed eyes.
Great games are just one more great source of guiding and training our imagination. Games encourage you to imagine paths to victory or ways to solve problems or even fictional worlds, characters and stories. A regular habit of gathering with friends to lay tiles and roll dice and make up stories or create absurd and silly answers to questions you would have never asked is a regular habit of imagination honing. And we take that imagination, sharp or dull, into the world every day and we either make use of it, or we don’t. \
The utility of strategic thinking.
What are these silly hobbies good for? What use? What meaning?
Forget the fun. Forget the exhilaration of heated competition and the uncontainable gut-busting laughter of party games. Forget the education of young minds in terms of math, reading, logic, and social etiquette. Finally, forget the profound image of human beings, who own a sordid history of hatred and war, gathered together around a table that spells welcome and acceptance in a safe environment developing meaningful relationships with big, bright smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.
What do you learn when you sit down to play a game of chess or cards or Agricola or Pandemic or Kingdom Builder? Strategy my friends. You learn how to think, how to organize your thoughts, how to approach a problem, how to eke out an advantage, how to assess the value of one thing as compared to another, how to think ahead to the future and to the consequences of the decision you just made, how to sequence your actions for maximum efficacy. It is a training ground for real life, for real problems and real relationships.
I use strategy every day. Perhaps every second of every day.
In my marriage, in my home, in my business, with my finances, with my time, etc. etc. etc.
I have six orders up that involve two fridges, an oven, a grill, a microwave and several utensils and ingredients. Which should I start first? How should I sequence my movements? When should I multitask and when should I avoid doing so? Can I combine making two things at once to increase efficiency or will that result in a customer not receiving their food and beverage at the same time?
I have three young children. Life is a zoo. Their needs are limitless. They are wild, they are asthmatic, they are having an allergic reaction, they are tired, they are cranky, they are loud, they are scared, they are hurt, they are insatiable. Every moment with them is a test of my ability to strategize and problem solve.
I constantly find myself strategizing every minute aspect of my life subconsciously, my brain takes over and finds the best (or at least a very good) way to sequence and balance and evaluate everything and I’m glad my brain is trained to do that. I notice when something that I just did felt “sub-optimal” which is one of my favorite terms by the way. I feel strongly that I avoid all kinds of wasted time, effort, money and energy and other costly grievances by strategizing my way through life’s hurdles and obstacles.
Thank God for games.