Why do people play games? What is it about taking the puzzle inside our heads and abstracting it out into a concrete format that all life forms seem to find so entertaining? Is it the same reason we make art? There is something timeless about dealing out a hand of rummy, it invokes every game I have ever played…with my sister, my cousins, endless band trips and sleepovers, the lunch hours we spent playing hearts and spades in my high school math teacher’s classroom…as the cards fall I enter into a kind of trance. Somewhere between explaining the game and teaching my daughter how to play I slip into winning. Not on purpose, my intention is just to go through the motions with her, show her a few open hands so we can play on our camping trip, but somewhere along the line my eyes start scanning the cards and my mind starts clicking. Without realizing it I’ve begun counting cards, and I am trying to win.
On the beach we played a game my daughter and her friends invented, a kind of bowling with sand balls on the beach, but the interesting thing about this game was not the game pieces, the “board” we created in the sand or the process, the rules of the game itself which involved rolling your ball down a hillside crafted out of sand by each player to see which one would reach the bottom first. The thing about this game was personification of the sand balls. Each one was crafted from wet sand and brought to the playing area, a special spot was created for it to rest between games, and then each one had a token like a feather or a rock to indicate one from the other. Each of the balls had a name, a personality, and sat near its token when not playing so you would always know one from the other, and not get them mixed up. Sometimes the balls didn’t make it. They fell apart on the way down the slope. With much calling of its name and humor about its possible demise the parts were collected and it was taken to the “hospital” to be reformed. This involved going back to the wet sand for rehab, then being ceremoniously brought back to the spot where its token waited so it might rest and watch the game until it was well enough to participate again.
The hand made sand bowling balls each represented someone in her family, herself, her mom, her dad, and together they competed against the other team with much humor and celebration. One of the balls fell apart completely and did not respond to repair, its demise was mourned and a suitable place for it to stay, a small hollow in the sand, was created near the others. Some ended up on pedestals, but then the rest got one too, and the game itself was forgotten in the creating of a new pattern.
Eventually wind erosion and high tide removed all trace of our whimsical attempts to pass the time together in pleasant exchange. Once again a blank slate for anyone to come and make their mark, the beach keeps nothing but memories. Not even the footprints we recycled by using them twice remained, following each other single file along the water’s edge, hopping from one impression to another in the gusty wind. Our games showed our true nature, revealed in action, and then gone.
I have been thinking a lot about games lately. There are ball games and disc games, head games and hand games, board games and dice games. Some games require a lot of gear and some you can play with nothing but your imagination. Word games, games of grace and skill. Is there an art to playing a game? I think so. Losing graciously, playing well. So much to be learned in a game.
Come play with us north bay. We are making a game room for the burn this year, and you are invited. w00t! xoxo RLL