Games, part 1: Childhood

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I was a child in the 1970s, so the games I played are sort of the classic Gen X American middle class board games. From Candy Land to Monopoly, if my family didn’t have it, someone on the block usually did.

Roll the dice, move your piece, obey the rules or break them. What is a game, and what separates a “game” from just “play”? I would say that a game is inventive play, with rules of varying complexity and rigidity. Often there is an object or a definitive endpoint. You reach “home,” you win all your opponent’s pieces or money, you kill the aliens. Or you don’t, and you lose, or you “die.” Lots of people have written lots of words about games, so let me go ask the internets for an official definition. BRB.

“A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.”

That’s from Wikipedia. I like the broad definition. I also like how the article distinguishes games from work and art, and then says the lines between them are sometimes blurred.


We played lots of games when I was a kid. Checkers, chess, backgammon, jacks, Uno, all the conventional card games, Pick Up Stix, Operation, Twister, Battleship, Hungry Hungry Hippos… so many games. We even had lawn darts.

The games we played as children were often teaching us things, though we usually didn’t know it. At first, just colors, sounds, letters, and counting. Later on, it was manual dexterity, how to follow rules, how to get along with people, how to lose and win gracefully (some people missed that lesson), how to strategize.

And it was a sensory experience: the rattle of dice in a cardboard cup; the tick of the plastic piece as you counted off the spaces; the spinning wheel in Life, the bubble that held the dice in Trouble; the smooth disks of Othello, on its green felt board. Our Parcheesi set had beautiful wooden pieces instead of plastic. The near-constant rattle of Yahtzee. The four-toned beeps of Simon, plus the electronic bzzz when you got it wrong,  that irritated a generation of parents.

I played with many of these games by myself sometimes. I wouldn’t play a regular game, taking different sides; I mean I would play with the pieces on the board, as if it were a little world and the pieces were characters, as if that were how it was meant to be played. The Life board was very satisfying, because of the built-in hills and buildings. I had the board game of the Disneyworld Haunted Mansion, and I don’t know if I ever played it as a regular game. It was very theatrical, though essentially a simple maze with some segments set on spinning disks. Could be the first evidence of the goth-to-be in me, though I played it in yellow footie pajamas. It had a smell to it that I can’t describe, but which, for some reason, frequently comes back to me. What I loved best was the immersion in another reality. A game was different from regular life, but it was connected to it at the same time.

It was fun to play games with other people, too. Aside from board games, we played hide-and-go-seek, kick the can, red light/green light, and all sorts of other outdoor games with the neighborhood kids. I liked kickball, but wasn’t into sports as a rule. Competitiveness bores me.

Sometimes just playing with toys can be referred to as “playing a game,” and in general “let’s pretend” is the ultimate game; it has artificial conflict and defined rules, though there isn’t much in the way of a quantifiable outcome. I played with the Fisher-Price Little People toys this way, in an elaborate fantasy world that often involved disaster scenarios and other misfortunes. I ran a home for runaways for a while. We had the yellow house, the barn, the school, the Rescue Center, the A-frame house, and more, as well as lots and lots of people and furniture. We had other buildings and people, too, like a McDonald’s and a Rescue Center from Playskool, that were the right size. I could play for hours either with my best friend or my sister, or by myself, making a whole world of stories. I just wanted another world to get lost in.

Lego and other building games would also be classified this way, but while I enjoyed building things, Lego never interested me much. I was more into the stories than the structures.

What games did you play when you were a kid? Why did you like them?

Part 2 is here.

3 Responses to “Games, part 1: Childhood”

  1. WinterInNYC Says:

    I used to play sharks and alligators with my sister. Growing up my parents had a king sized water bed. The two of us would walk the narrow bed frame. If you fell into the bed sharks ate you. If you fell onto the floor the alligators got you. This is one of my favorite childhood memories 🙂

  2. soundofrain Says:

    Oh, yeah! “The floor is lava” is a variation, I suppose… but I like your double-threat better.

  3. soundofrain Says:

    I just noticed that your avatar is a Chia pet. LOL!!

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