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.
It is Saturday July 15, 2017 at 8:36pm and Mancala Monk Board Game Café is a packed house. Every chair in this place has ensconced some keen, budding board game enthusiast of one sort or another. I am sitting in the back room, finally writing the blog post I was supposed to write yesterday. At the moment I can’t see them but I can hear them; the humming and buzzing, the laughter, discussion, the occasional shout or shriek or triumphant cheer.
People have a good time here. A really good time.
It’s humbling and we are so grateful to be a part of a thriving small business, a thriving community.
I love Board Games and I think they do remarkable things. I believe in them. I think they are good for the world. I think they are good for me and that whatever it was that inclined me towards gaming has been an inclination that has served me very well in my life and it is something that I value highly.
One of the things that seems as clear as day to me but obfuscated and obscure for my beloved non-gamer friends and family, is the value or merit of spending hours and hours playing Board Games. Let’s be honest, Board Games often do consume hours and hours, they don’t make you “cool”, they aren’t a form of exercise, they are indoors and weird and expensive. I can picture in my mind an entire generation of young gamers who grow up constantly trying to smuggle their love of games past the surly cynicism of teacher’s, peers or even loving parents who just aren’t sure that their progeny are going to benefit from this obsessive behaviour. For the record, my parents were very supportive, but as a life-long gamer, you bump against the naysaying of unbelievers all the time. But that’s okay, persecution only strengthens our faith.
I think that this kind of unbelief stems from a single error, a misconceived notion about the triviality of games. To an untrained mind, all games are good for is distraction, a way to kill time on a rainy day. Games are, at their worst, evil and degenerate, or at best, useless fun. An aimless diversion for the mindless or anti-social. Games are just games. But ask a dedicated gamer, it’s about more than “having a good time”. It’s a way of life. Games are never just games for me.
In the same way that some people use music or books or films or fantasy to escape from life, others use those same media to engage with it. Games aren’t an escape for me, they help me engage with the world around me more profitably. Even Dungeons & Dragons, a game that most people assume means escaping reality and living in a fantasy world for a few hours, is for many of us – I believe – a fun, engaging exercise that pushes us beyond our social inhibitions and natural timidity or introversion. It is scary to meet up with a group of friends, peers or complete strangers and improvise a fictional characters thoughts, feelings, actions and speech. It is collective story writing, imaginative group improv, and advanced strategy academy all wrapped up in a memorable social gathering with food, drinks and snacks. Beer if you’re lucky. What’s not to love?
But the point is that it is an activity that is good for you, good for your present and future existence within the real world. It gives much more than it takes and that is why we play. Every person who plays D&D believes this is true. The power of a great game is not that it takes you away from your life or responsibilities but that the time you spend with it benefits you on your journey through life and the best games equip you with friendship, personal courage, a sharp intellect, social awareness, strategic thinking, an empowered imagination and a sense of the heroic.
Next week, as a continuation to this discussion, I am going to write about, specifically, the role of Heroism, the power of Imagination, and the utility of Strategic thinking for our every day lives. This is stuff I think about all the time. Much love everybody. Catch ya next week.
Tired. Tired is what we have been for the last 20 months.
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. And next week we move on to some of the bright and positive things that the Monk represents. And truthfully, we are so grateful, happy and blessed. The Café is successful and has exceeded our expectations across the board. But dayum people. We spend most of our time just trying to put another foot in front of the other. Between all the planning, driving, creating, cleaning, baking, shopping, emailing, ordering, pay rolling, operating, it can be difficult to find living, relaxing, enjoying, breathing, sleeping, eating, resting, gaming, friending.
Gene and I once sat down to discuss the year that had passed by, our first year being self-employed. We both agreed without much hesitation that it was the hardest year of our lives. And remember, three kids. And we’re in our thirties. We’ve been through challenges, we’ve been through hardships, none of us avoid those and they are real. But we agreed that 2015-2016 was the hardest year of our lives.
My small business mentor used to love to observe that: “Most people think that self-employment will be so great because you will get to set your own hours. Okay. Which 80 hours a week would you like to work?”
For the first year-and-a-half I worked 80 hours a week, six days a week, with a one-day weekend that easily turned into more work if I wasn’t very careful. One day of rest in a 7-day week feels like coming up for a breath of air once every 70 seconds. It gets harder each time simply because you’re not getting enough air to breathe. It’s not sustainable. Now I work a 5-day week but it’s still 60ish hours. When you get home from that 60-hour week you come home to three young budding, growing, changing, transforming children who need you around and emotionally available. Or you’re a bad father. Way to go Dad. Gene is in the exact same boat and I honestly don’t know how she manages under the weight of her responsibilities sometimes.
But you know what helps when you’re Tired? Knowing that you are not alone. Because we’re all tired. Everyone is working hard. And we’re all in it together. Last week I briefly compared owning a small business to having a small child, and, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. We are tremendously helped by being a part of the villages. The village of small business owners in Hamilton, the village we have created within the Monk (Steven, William, Cat and now Charlotte – we have an amazing team guys, thank you so much!) and the Monk Village, the village of enthusiastic gamers who like, follow, share and support the things that happen here. The Monk doesn’t exist and couldn’t thrive without all these villages raising her up. We thank YOU, readers of blogs, drinkers of Lattes, rollers of dice, and everyone who supports this community. Sincerely and with felt emotion. You have no idea how good it is to see a smiling and supportive face in the store during a week when you secretly feel exhausted and terrified of the future. We have AMAZING customers whom we truly love and adore.
And at the end of all of that, the last thing that keeps us going through it all. We serve Coffee and Beer.