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The games we play are timeless. Photo by Phil Houseal


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The power of play

by Phil Houseal
Nov 30, 2016


When I say a word, you name the game:


Do not pass go!


OK, that last one was easy. But if you guessed Cribbage, Monopoly, and Yahtzee, I would guess that playing games played a role in your childhood.

The importance of games was brought back to me during the recent liquidation of my parents’ household items. At the auction–which included furniture, linens, tableware, utensils, and appliances accumulated over 60 years–we noticed a pattern in some purchases. It was this: the grandkids not only bought all the family board games and toys, they bought the toybox they came in and the old table we used to sit around while playing them.

Then they hauled it all back to the farmhouse and not only placed the stack of games on the same shelf in the same closet, but they placed the table legs back into the exact same carpet indentations where the table sat for decades.

My own grown daughter was thrilled that she won the bidding on the box of our original Lincoln Logs for a few dollars. She remembered playing with them at Grandma’s house, and as I once again picked up the old square–not round–miniature logs, I vibrated with kinetic memories of constructing and deconstructing cabin after cabin as a child architect.

What is this power of games? It is the power of play.

As young parents, we tried to recreate those memories for our own children. We still have the TinkerToys, Carom board, Pickup Stix, and Nok Hockey that I insisted on getting for them instead of the latest electronic game console.

Then there were the board games. Scrabble, Twister, Chutes and Ladders, Risk, and so many versions of Monopoly, the game that never ends.

And jars filled with dice and decks of cards, evoking memories of the folks and grandfolks gathering at the house for endless sessions of pinochle.

What I now recognize is that the game didn’t matter. What mattered was that they drew players from across generations to sit around the card table together and engage in a common activity.

Games didn’t build character, they revealed it. You learned to win humbly and lose graciously and probably some other things like mild swears.

Or maybe we didn’t learn anything. Maybe games were just a creative waste of time.
Whatever the pull, it was powerful, as my nieces and nephews proved.

My last sight while leaving the otherwise empty farmstead were those boxes of board games, perched on the same shelf in the same closet where now three generations of kids had pulled them down to learn about life.

To learn about themselves.