Game Theory

It's not quite "Hark, the herald angels sing," but "Mrs. Peacock with a knife in the study" sounds like Christmastime just the same.

In the basement of the north-end house I grew up in was a rumpus room done up in homage to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. There were wagon wheel chandeliers, log panels, swinging bar doors, gun holsters, and I think there was, as a nod to the emerging multiculturalism, a couple of sombreros on the wall. At the far end of the room, in front of the fake brick wall, stood a long bar stocked not with rum and whiskey, but with board games.

There were chase games, like Ludo, Sorry, and Trouble. And the classics, including Monopoly and Clue, checkers and chess. We had goofy games, like Barrel of Monkeys and Buckaroo. There was Stratego and Rummoli. Ker Plunk. Twister. Operation. Mousetrap. Let's Make A Deal. Emergency. Mastermind. Waterworks. Battling Tops. Hungry Hungry Hippos. Snakes and Ladders. We had a CN Rail board game. Yahtzee. Scrabble. Stock Ticker. Masterpiece. Rebound. And on and on. Dice games, skill games, mystery games, finesse games. Trivial Pursuit. The bar was packed.

The play was the thing. And Christmas always meant gifts of games.

In that downstairs room I witnessed the dawn of the video game revolution. We played Pong for hours. Days, actually.

And we lost more days later to table hockey and backgammon and cribbage and crokinole and pente.

I remember the flashing green cursor on the Apple IIe that we had on a desk in that room, and the day I proudly told my grandfather the one thing I knew you could do with a computer: play crib! Why, he asked, would you want to play crib on a computer?

With the passage of years, his point, I think, was that it's a gamechanger (not his term) when you play a game with yourself and not with an other sitting across from you, testing you, making jokes, observations, cheating, getting caught.

Who cares if backgammon is the game of life (it is because it forces you to find the message in the dice and manage that fortune as you run or stay put) if there's not another person across from you?

Who cares if crokinole is the best game ever (it is because it just is) if you can't teach it to a friend at work or a young niece or nephew, or use it to break the ice at a family gathering?

Joan and me and Fastrack
My buddy Daryl as chairman of board
Sure, you grow up to study a little and to learn that everything is a game: politics, economics, driving a car, falling in love. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a game. Evolution is a game. And "game" can take on a cynical connotation.

And it's true that you learn most everything from games: how to take turns, how to play with a poker face, how to keep emotions in check, how to win, how to lose, how not to tease your young sons too much when you are beating them at Lord of the Rings Risk and they are 5 and 7 and you are older.

But that's all stuff you think about after the game is over.

The real fun is having the rest of the world fall away for a couple of minutes, or hours, when you pose the question that begins, "Wanna have a game of...?" and that other person says yes, and then it's the two or more of you, ages 3+, and it's doing what you can't do by yourself: play with game.


Check out the vintage Clue game Shelagh got me for Christmas. I mean, the rope is made of rope. And if Alex beats me at crib one more time, it might be time to change up the game plan!

GK in the basement with a game

We brought the new old Clue game to Kathy and John's for a New Year's Eve games night. At the end, after some crafty playing by Kathy, some impulsive (though close) accusing by Andrew, the winner was Sarah. In the basement. With a Cosmopolitan!

Kathy had the rope all along! aarrghh!


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