Clarissa Johal: Bored Games

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bored Games

Board games.
A rite of passage wherein the parent comes to the realization that their beloved toddler has moved beyond the phase of popping game pieces into their mouths to experience new texture and flavor sensations. It is a portion of the parent’s life wherein their company is required, coveted in fact, and so they begin a road of logging in countless hours of game play. Of making it to King Kandy’s Castle and not getting stuck on a gumdrop in Candyland, of climbing ladders and not falling down a chute in Chutes and Ladders, and of becoming a Pretty, Pretty Princess by stealing everyone else’s jewelry.
Later, that said parent will graduate onto games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship and Life. Buying hotels (if the game progresses that far), making up words to maximize points, sinking battleships, and beating your children in the game of Life (don’t ponder on that one for too long).
Beyond that, the parent’s participation is no longer required.
The board games are replaced by more sophisticated playmates; Xbox, Wii and Nintendo, which require no other human interaction at all, save for the occasional “Wow, top score? That’s great honey.”
Beyond that…well, lets just say I haven’t experienced that yet.
So, let’s back up a bit. Board games.
When my first child stopped showing an interest in how things tasted and started becoming interested in how they worked, we ran out and bought our first “family” board games. I was so excited to purchase Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, I could hardly wait to set them up and start playing. Now things were going to get interesting!
It is a simple game with simple rules, and consequently, after playing it several times…the mind begins to wander. I found myself pondering on the child named Lolly and creatures depicted on the board, and the fact that they looked rather psychotic. (Most likely, I reasoned, it was because they lived in Candyland and probably didn’t eat their vegetables.) But why would Lord Licorice look so evil? Was he planning the overthrow of the Candy Kingdom? And why did Gumdrop look like a dinosaur? Was he a dinosaur gumdrop? And what about Gramma Nut? A creepy lady with a doggie basket, she kind of reminded me of the witch from Hansel and Gretel. I wanted to yell, “Run home, Lolly! These people are not your friends! They will lead you down a path of cavities and weight issues for the rest of your life!”
But, to children, this game is a goldmine of giggles and hours of entertainment. And after playing as much of this game as I could stand, I would find myself skillfully leading my daughter onto other things.
Yes, I’ll admit it. After logging in an hour or so of Candyland, in spite of how happy it made my 3-year-old, I needed a change of pace.
Onto Chutes and Ladders. Called Snakes and Ladders when I was a kid, why they changed the name, I’ll never know. Maybe a parent complained the snakes were giving their child nightmares. Or, maybe Herpetologists complained that it led children to believe that sliding down snakes like ropes was an acceptable thing to do, which we all know, isn’t.
Snakes aside, my child was always quite sad that the little boy on square 24 had apparently bumped his head falling down the chute, and the little boy on square 60 had broken his arm riding his bicycle. (Let that be a lesson to all you kids—bicycles are not for riding.) But, I would remind her, the little boy on square 36 got to climb up the ladder because he ate his vegetables, and the little girl on square 49 slid all the way down to square 11 because she ate too many cookies and got a tummy ache.
Now that’s some good and sneaky parenting propaganda. Remind me to write Milton Bradley and thank them for that.
These types of games breed like rabbits. Our game closet was soon spilling with games such as; Pretty, Pretty Princess, (a great game that encourages girls to steal and fight over each others jewelry), Trouble (I want to smash that Pop-O-Matic bubble sometimes for never rolling 6’s), Hullabaloo and Mousetrap. These board games stick around for years. All the way through the ages of 3 to 6-years-old, if I recall.
So get used to them. Love them, make up stories in your head as you gaze, bleary-eyed, at the techno-color illustrations on the boards or hop around like a ninny as the Hullabaloo guy tells you to; “Do the funky-monkey dance!”
But, take heart, for after the simplistic board games deemed for ages 3-6 years old, there comes a developmental leap that is quite exciting. Games for 7-years and older.
The first time my children asked for the game of Monopoly, I about let out a whoop of joy. Now here was a game I had longed for as a kid! I never got it—but I wanted it more than anything. I couldn’t purchase it fast enough.
The day that my children and I played Monopoly, we played, and played, and played…into the wee hours of the night.
Because the game…doesn’t…end.
Nobody wins, and nobody loses. It just goes on forever. If you even get to the point where you can start buying hotels, you are doomed. Once your child lands on your hotel and cannot come up with the money to pay you—the rules of the game will need to be altered. Who wants to take all of their child’s hard-earned money and leave them destitute? Not me. So, the rules must be morphed into slightly “new rules.” The player can pay you what they can, or owe you, but they cannot go out. Because going out, of course, is not fair.
And to a kid, life has to be fair.
A better and more sensible game is Scrabble. If your child can spell.
When we started playing this game, mine couldn’t quite spell. The game was relegated to me peeking at their letters and helping them come up with something other than “poop” or “butt.” Basically, it was a game wherein I played against myself. I like to think it helped them with their spelling and vocabulary in some abstract kind of way that doesn’t involve four-letter words, but only time will tell.
Battleship was another good game. The one snafu however, is how odd it was that my child’s ships seemed to teleport around on the board. Maybe there is a Bermuda Triangle within the plastic, I’m not sure, but I swear that I would never manage to track down my 7-year-olds ships and sink them.
Enjoy the board games while they last. If you are a parent, you will come to the realization that a good portion of board game parenting is a delicate balance of the good and the bad.
The bad? Realizing why your parents made the decisions about your leisure time that they did. And then sticking your fingers in your ears and denying that you have become like your parents and are making the same, unpopular decisions for your own children. The good? Re-living your childhood. In all it’s wacky, rolling, counting, rule-bending glory.
Remind me to thank my parents for the hours of these bored, um, I mean board games they played with me before coming up with an excuse to go do…something else.
We have almost grown out of these board games, sadly enough. There are a few that linger. Charades, ThinkBlot, Scattagories. My children have now moved onto an array of Xbox, Wii and Nintendo DS games. I’ve tried some of their games on the Xbox and the Wii, mostly so I don’t get labeled the “un-cool” mom. They mystify me, however, in that the social interaction sometimes is truly lacking. Do I long for the days of endless hours of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders? Not really. I know my children’s brains are becoming more complex and that is reflected in their leisure time. And rejecting electronic leisure is, in my opinion, not accepting the fact that technology has become an ingrained part of my children’s world. I do manage to slip some social interaction in when my children want to plug themselves into an XBox or Wii game. They'll thank me for it later when they realize they are capable of a normal conversation that doesn't involve phrases such as, "high score" and, "what level did you get to?" It is a delicate balance and I try to be fair.
I must say, however, that if my children ever ask for the Wii version of Monopoly (oh yeah, there is one) I will be nixing it. We have a perfectly good version of Monopoly in a box, in our game closet. They may go fetch it and I will be happy to play it with them.
We may even finish the game someday.

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