Before huge televisions with countless programs in living color, kids created ways to have fun with their friends. Most of the time the activities took place outside away from the watch of parents. We were on our own and more often than not created adventures that would have made Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn proud. Since our summers were a full three months and the heat often soared near one hundred degrees in August, we often found refuge from the sun inside someone’s home where we had to play quietly or invoke the wrath of our mothers. That’s when we took out the board games or cards and designed championship tournaments whose only prize was status among our peers.
The favorites back then were Monopoly, Scrabble, and Clue along with a variety of card games like canasta and poker. My favorite was Scrabble because I have always had a way with words. Clue reminded me of the mysteries that were my reading fodder from an early age. Monopoly depended a bit too much on luck for my taste and I rarely won, but now and again the gods of dice gave me the numbers I needed and I managed to become a real estate baron. Somehow I have always felt that those gaming days indirectly guided me in choosing the direction of my life.
I’m not a gambler or a risk taker, so poker was probably my least favorite diversion. My face always gave away what I was thinking because I never really learned how to successfully tell even a little white lie as a bluff, and really did not want to do so. I wasn’t interested in counting cards either, so I don’t think I ever won such a competition. I left everything to luck and the skill of others always overcame my efforts.
It was Scrabble that won me over because I have collected words for all of my life. While some of my fellow students hated the vocabulary lessons from our teachers, I devoured them. I saw words as one of the greatest gifts that we humans enjoy. Communicating was my thing and I practiced diligently until I learned how to do it well. Words were essential in my quest, so a game that featured them was glorious to me. Playing Scrabble gave me an opportunity to demonstrate one of my very best skills, but sadly few of my friends shared my enthusiasm for the game. More often than not the group chose something else to play.
Everyone seemed to enjoy Monopoly and we always agreed to play the long version of the game. I mostly wanted to be either the old shoe or the thimble, which in some ways was indicative of my personality and how I would actually do in the real world of finance. Some of my friends were already demonstrating incredible talent for earning money as they traveled around that board with their top hats, race cars, or battleships. They were as serious about real estate and banking as I was about words. While I often grew bored before the game was done, they were intensely focused until they had gathered mountains of cash and run the rest of us out of business.
Clue tended to be the great equalizer. We all had a bit of the sleuth in us, but as my mother often noted, I noticed little things that made me a natural detective. Besides, I have always been addicted to mysteries. If someone demanded that I choose only one genre of book to read for the rest of my life it would have to be mystery. In fact, when I first entered high school I stunned my English teacher when I admitted on a survey that I had mostly read Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels while disregarding the other wonderful fiction and nonfiction authors.
To this very day I am an avid fan of Dateline, 20/20 and 48 hours. I listen to podcasts about crimes while I exercise. I am fascinated by the human mind and people who engage in violent and deviant behaviors. i might have worked for the FBI or the CIA. That would have been a great job for me with my observational and language skills. Instead I chose teaching which also used my talents with great success.
These days most young people compete in computer games. I suppose that adults think of the time they spend on such things as being a waste of effort much as the adults of my time may have considered the gaming competitions of my youth. I suspect that we too often fail to see how games can actually translate later into real life skills.
I remember reading that the military has found that today’s youth learns how to manipulate weapons and perform other related tasks with greater dexterity than recruits of the past. The kids who once played games that required great hand eye coordination learn to fly a plane or drive a tank quickly. The time spent in front of a screen making animated creatures react to changing conditions makes them perfect for a host of jobs that once took much more training to master.
Medical schools have also noticed that students training to become surgeons or to handle diagnostic tools have steadier hands and much quicker reaction times than those of the past. Those hours of sitting in front of a screen seeming to be wasting time literally translate into highly usable skills in the real world.
Games people play are not just frivolous entertainment. We learn as we compete and take those skills forward into our lives. While I knew people who flunked out of college because they spent too much time at a card table or in front of a video game, most unconsciously use the skills that they learned in the world of games outside of formal learning and turn those skills into a way of earning a living. So take out those board games or sit down and play a video game. There is more to those pastimes than we think. They may lead us to success in the real world.