One of the memories I cherish about my childhood family life is the way we would regularly play games together. I loved playing Hungry Hungry Hippo, Mr Mouth, Clue, Yahtzee, Stratego, Monopoly, Guess Who, Risk, and other games with my parents and my two sisters. I learned about following instructions, paying attention to details, reading people, communicating effectively and respectfully, gracious winning and losing, patience, and so much more. And it was just fun. I mean…Mr Mouth – talk about passin a good time! : )
And probably more than anything, playing games frequently with my family helped me develop a secure sense of family connection and continuity. As long as we were playing a game together, it just felt like our world was okay. I’m so thankful for that. And nothing captured that spirit more than playing our family favorite – Rook. My Mom and older sister were always partners, and Dad and I were always partners. (Sorry, little sis, I’m thinking back to the days before you really joined the family gaming in earnest, and we moved on to other games.) In addition to always knowing it would be girls vs guys teams, there was another thing you could always count on. Dad and I always won. I can honestly only remember one exception to this, and it was quite an experience for Mom and my sister to win. I remember as a kid, always wondering why in the world Mom or my sister never insisted on being Dad’s partner, since we all knew his team would win. As I got older, I realized it wasn’t worth it to them to have to live up to Dad’s expectations of his partner. They just had fun playing.
And for me, it wasn’t so much that I loved all the winning (although I’ll admit I did thoroughly enjoy that). I think it was a combination of two things. I felt a sense of wonder and honor at learning from the man who was clearly the best Rook player in the world. And I felt deeply affirmed by my Dad that he trusted me as his partner, even though I was the youngest player, had trouble focusing, and never mastered the ability to remember everything that had been played already (let alone developing Dad’s uncanny ability to know what cards other players had in our hands before we played them). Heck, I still remember the early days when I couldn’t even hold my cards in my hand like a fan, and I would lay them face up on the piano bench next to my chair. And I loved it. I loved every game of Rook we played. I was part of something magical. I felt kinda grown up. And I did do a lot of growing up along the way. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making our family a game playing family. You blessed us richly with that.
I am so thankful to my lovely wife for joining me in making our family a game playing family – especially since playing family games wasn’t really her thing when we got married. But man, did she convert! I have such wonderful memories of our newlywed years of playing games like Yahtzee and Skip-Bo nearly every night. Sometimes it was even our gaming traditions that helped us resolve the marital conflict of the day, because, doggone it, it was time to play some Phase 10 or Mancala or whatever. Bon Temps! (That’s “Good Times” for those North of I-10.) Playing games together as a couple really did help us to bond, deepen our friendship, and develop a firmly rooted sense of connected identity.
And family game playing is more fun than ever these days, now that my son has developed beyond the early days of Candyland, checkers, Connect Four, and such. The three of us absolutely love a rousing game of Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride (huge thanks to our best friends, the Stuarts, for introducing us to both of these), and I’m also eager to try out the Qwirkle game we got for Christmas from a friend. Our two family faves of Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are fun and challenging. They push each of us to think ahead as well as to interact with one another both competitively and cooperatively. There is a certain level of determination and persistence that is required for both. And you can’t win either game without feeling a genuine sense of accomplishment at having done so. Incidentally, our bright ten year old is just as likely to win either of these games as my wife or I are, for those who may be curious about age requirements. (No, I’m not getting any kickbacks from either of these newer game making companies.) I sincerely hope my son will one day look back on his own childhood with as much joy, satisfaction, and appreciation for our family game times as I do on mine.
What memories will your kids have about playing family games in your home? What are they learning? How are you using games as a growing and bonding tool in your family? What fond memories do you have of favorite family games? If you’re coming up short answering these questions, I hope you’ll open up a game with your family and start some new fun traditions. You will all be blessed in the process.
p.s. – It just occurred to me that playing classic dominoes with my grandfather was just as wonderful and magical as playing Rook with Dad. Thanks, Granddad, for every patient game you played with me. You never hid the fact that you wanted your grandkids to score as much or more as you did. That always amazed and encouraged me. I miss playing dominoes with you, Granddad, as much as I miss playing Rook with you, Dad. Can’t wait to experience family game nights in Heaven with both of you.