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'.

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