Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting into the gamer's mind Part I - a history

I have a younger brother.

As kids, growing up we spent a lot of rainy days playing board games together. Hours and hours we spent holding and dealing out money in Monopoly and jumping over each other's pieces in Sorry.

Monopoly was a fun game, but it could be really long. I can't remember if we finished even half of our games. We were children so we always played on the floor on the nearest available flat spot, unfolding the blue-backed board, stacking up the cards and choosing our playing pieces. "I'm banker", I would call out. "I'm the dog", he would reply. As if I wouldn't let him be the dog, of course I would. I was always the hat.

Winning or losing, the best part was having all that pretend money and spending it every chance I could get. I loved the feel of owning all that property. Oh and making my brother give me lots of rent, that was fun too.

Othello was a game I played with my father. Well, I played and he won almost all of the time. I may have won once, I'm not sure, maybe he let me win. :)

I loved the feel of playing this game; the smoothness of the little black and white plastic pieces against the green felt board was comfortable and safe. Also it was totally fun to flip over a whole row. I felt so in control; these pieces were now MINE.*

"I'll go here", I said, and shunk-shunk-shunk-shunk-shunk went the pieces. I would smile slowly into my father's eyes and say, "That's five for me." He would always smile back before taking his turn, which usually meant he was taking a much larger group of stones back.  

In my twenties I had a bunch of gamer** friends. Every weekend we would drive out to this guy's house, eat junk food, and play games I had never heard of before. I learned that the best games (at the time, we're talking about the 1990s) were coming out of Europe, and sometimes the only copies available were in German so we learned to read symbols instead of text or play off of a translation of the instructions. I learned how to play Settlers of Catan. El Grande. Bohnanza. MediciI'm the Boss (which I knew as Kohle-Kies-Knete). There were a whole host of others I don't remember at all.

These games were so different from anything I'd ever played as a kid, and they were all so interesting. Every week, it seemed, there was a new game to try - several of the guys in the group were game designers and we would often play-test their new designs. This one had little wooden squares, that one had little ships. Here we were trying to outbid each other for fancy artwork, another time, we were racing around a track and knocking each other's cars into the dirt. It was really, really great fun.


Looking back on the experience, I see that as much as I absorbed about the games and strategy and how best to get the wrapper off of a mini-Reese's peanut butter cup, I didn't know anything about the people I was gaming with. It was a very different experience from the one I had playing with my family growing up.

Did you play games with your family? What about with friends? Did you see a difference?


*I'm seeing a big over-arching theme. I definitely liked games where I could own things. 
**Gamer - For the purposes of this post please take it to mean 'one who games as an adult'.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What holds us back? Listening to some academics talk about empathy

Last year, the SEEK company brought some people together from a bunch of different disciplines and had them all talk about empathy from their own point of view. I loved this video so much that I wanted to share it with you. Really, I just wanted it to go on forever. It was everything I remember to be good about college; great ideas shared in a relaxed environment over some yummy looking food and drink.

Click here to see the video, The first of a series of roundtables around the topic of Empathy. Recorded July, 2013 at the Massachusetts Historical Society's Dowse Library.*


The speakers began by trying to define what empathy meant to each of them, which I would call the 'getting to know you' part of the discussion. Then came the question, what can cause empathy to happen? Is it something that we can learn and grow ourselves (as I believe) or does it only arise naturally, or both? The point was then made that empathy can and does arise naturally, but only if we share a culture** with the other person we're connecting to. 

This concept rings very true for me. When I see another person and we do any number of cultural acts together (I'm thinking of simple things like shaking hands or holding open a door) then I can more easily step into their shoes. Let's say I take a trip someplace far away, and I see another mom towing her child around. No matter how different looking and dressing and talking she is, something about her is familiar, and I can feel close to her without even thinking about it.  

So if shared culture and habits and behaviors can bring us together, why aren't I friends with everyone in my town? The group seemed to agree on one idea that keeps us apart. Fear. 

I do agree with them that fear is an obstacle - and most people would agree, I think, that fear can hold us back. The idea here is that it actually prevents us from connecting with each other. 

If I am afraid of you, it doesn't matter what cultural norms we share. The fear fills me up and can prevent me from seeing things from your point of view. I don't know why this is; perhaps it's because of our fight or flight instincts to survive. Perhaps it's because, like the Buddha's teachings say, that the strong emotion of fear takes up all the space in my mind that might otherwise be filled with compassion and empathy. I'm no longer at peace, and so I don't have any room left to see a life other than my own.

The rest of the talk was also great but I'll let you see that for yourself.

So what do you think? Does fear hold you back, is it keeping you from connecting to someone?


*Let's give some kudos to all of the people talking in this video (links to biographies):

Dr. Marco Iacoboni, Professor and Neurologist
Dr. Mary Hellen Immordino-Yang, Cognitive Neuroscientist and Professor
Dr. Robert Weller, Professor and Anthropologist
Dr. Adam Seligman, Professor of Sociology, Social Anthropology and Religion
Leslie Jamison, Author, PhD candidate at Yale University
Ben Doepke & the SEEK company (host)

** Here by "culture" I don't mean something intellectual. I'm talking about culture as behavior, I'm talking about how in some parts of the world looking someone in the eye is considered good and in other parts of the world it's considered bad. Anyone know more about sociology out there, and can help me to define culture more accurately, feel free to do so in the comments.