Why do we like to play games?
The answer may surprise you
My mother has a professional card shuffling machine. You know, the serious kind. The kind they have in the high-roller casinos in Las Vegas. The ones the pros use. My mom’s neighbors in her independent living community borrow it regularly.
They use the “Shufflemaster 500” when they play cards every Saturday. There is a waiting list to get to be part of the game. Sometimes they play for pennies, and sometimes it’s for candy. It doesn’t really matter who wins. They play for the fun of it.
Why do we play games?
It got me thinking, why do we play games? So I looked it up. The short definition is “a controlled form of freedom.” What does that even mean?
The article went on to explain the concept of a magic circle. An imaginary circle you might draw with chalk. Inside the circle, there are rules to follow, and if you are more skilled or luckier than your opponent, you win. Going in, you don’t know if you will leave the circle buoyed by the joy of fame and fortune or suffer the pain and agony of defeat. But you still want to play.
Let’s play a game right now. We can play Rock, Paper. Scissors. Rock breaks Scissors. Scissors cuts Paper. Paper covers Rock. Ready. Set. Go. Check out the bottom of the blog to see which I chose.
Did you win? How do you feel?
Admit it. You felt a little rush of adrenaline.
No, we can’t play again because you already know what I chose.
Games have been around forever.
The cavemen used to play with bird bones. Of course, there is no evidence, but it sounds plausible. The first proof of a real game was discovered in the Persian Gulf. It is called the “royal game of Ur” and it is 5000 years old.
Playing cards have been around since the 1300s. They migrated from East to West, with each country adding its own special twist.
The Italians adorned them with elaborate swords, clubs, coins, and cups.
The Germans put a pastoral spin on the decks with acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells.
The French evolved the suits into what we use today but described them in French - coeurs, piques, carreaux, and trefles. They also were the innovators of the two-color system, red and black. It is your lucky day. Now you know that bit of trivia when they as the question on Jeopardy.
The Brits changed the name of the suits into English (the King’s English at the time) and placed a tax on the sale of every deck of playing cards. They created a stamp that went on the Ace of Spades to prove that the buyer had paid the tax. (I’m sure that they paid no tax on the cards they were playing with at the Boston Tea Party).
And in typical American fashion, we added the joker! A magic card you could use to change the rules into anything you wanted. (That comment is in no way a political statement.)
It seems that games possess superpowers.
Combining entertainment and strategy, games enhance our cognitive, social, and physical skills. They can be played alone (solitaire), in a group (mom’s poker game), you can watch a game being played (professional sports), and you can even get into the game you are watching by betting on who is going to win (horse racing).
Back to the magic circle metaphor. When you enter the circle, something changes. There is “controlled freedom” inside. Perhaps playing games enable superpowers. You just need to know how to use them.
Here are a couple of examples:
Icebreaker: Ever met someone new and you are trying to get past an awkward silence? Try asking them about their hometown baseball, football, hockey, or soccer team. You are guaranteed to either build an unbreakable bond or decide you hate this person - especially if they like the Yankees. (Note, I’m a Red Sox fan).
Equalizer: How about trying to connect with people who don’t speak the same language? My wonderful brother married an amazing woman from Peru. Her parents were bright, warm, and loving however, our ability to communicate with each other started and ended with the biggest hugs. They didn’t speak a word of English, and our Spanish fluency ended with the days of the week. When Nonno (my sister-in-law’s father) pulled out a deck of cards, all it took was a little translation and a ton of laughter, and within minutes, we were sharing the universal joy of matching suits and stealing packs.
Time accelerator: Everyone in my family usually gets to places 30-60 minutes early. Trains, planes, job interviews, Broadway shows, movies, parties. Everyone prefers to be where they are supposed to be, way ahead of schedule. That is everyone except for my brother and my oldest son, who both have a “special” relationship with time (a blog for another day). So what do we do when we get places early? The digital crossword puzzle, of course. And once you figure out the five-letter word for 4-down and the six-letter word for 8-across, the time literally flies by.
Okay, so what is the point?
Humans like to play games. But we don’t do it enough. As a kid, we played games all of the time. We were always late for dinner because we were outside playing Simon Says, Giant Steps, Red Light/Green Light, Kickball, Man in the Middle, and Four Squares.
As adults, we’ve lost the joy of playing games. We need to accomplish grown-up things. Finish everything on our to-do list. Imagine how it would feel if we crossed into the magic circle for the mundane aspects of our everyday lives. If we could make games out of:
Doing the laundry: How tall can you make a pile of folded clothes before it falls?
Putting the dishes away: How fast can you sort the forks and spoons?
Paying the bills: How many checks do you write out to a person whose name begins with H?
Going grocery shopping: At the checkout counter, guess how much your bill is going to be without going over.
That was fun just thinking about it.
So dear reader, next time you want to break an awkward silence, connect with someone who uses different words than you, speed up time or accomplish a boring task, think about how you can make a game out of it. Go ahead. Venture into the magic circle. If nothing else, you’ll have a little fun.
(I chose scissors - did I win? Let me know in the comments below)
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