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November 16, 2012

STAWAR: Thanksgiving: The game is on

“These diversions are tolerable at Christmas, when one is around the fire, but in my opinion, it wastes the outdoors.” —  Mrs. Elton from the Movie “Emma”

     

With the Thanksgiving weekend coming up, many families are looking for activities they can do together, after being satiated with food, parades and football.

On such holidays, people often spend a great deal of time with the relatives and others that they see infrequently, or even actively avoid the rest of the year. While conversation is probably the most common activity at such gatherings, it can be rather dangerous, especially after an election.

You also risk bringing up old grievances and rivalries that constantly hover just below the surface in most families. In these situations singer-songwriter Randy Newman advocates for watching a lot of television. The lyrics from his song “My Country” say, “Feelings might go unexpressed. I think that’s probably for the best. Dig too deep, who knows what you will find.”

I’m all for watching the classic version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” but too much television seems rather passive and antisocial. Technology may be changing the complexion of these family events. I wonder at this year’s Thanksgiving table, what percent of diners will be checking their e-mail or texts while waiting for their pumpkin pie

For many families, one alternative to staring into a phone, computer or television screen is playing games together. Although you may protest, Americans are inveterate game-players. According to the 2010 census, nearly 38 million adults reported playing board games within the last year and more than 20 percent of the population said that they played cards. Even with the vast popularity of video games, almost 8 million Americans say they still play board games on a monthly basis or more often.

Like most kids, I grew up playing classic children’s games like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and Uncle Wiggily. On her blog, artist Dixie Redmond says that Candyland is a lot like life.

“You can be hopping right along through the Gumdrop Mountain Pass and BAM, a few turns later you find yourself stuck in the Molasses Swamp.”

I suppose these early games teach us a lot about dealing with adversity. I personally always hated landing on one of those darn chutes that set you so far back. Unfortunately, today I can identify with Uncle Wiggily, who on his way to get a rheumatism cure from Dr. Possum is stymied by the skeezicks.

Many child development experts suggest that some of the benefits of playing games are teaching children how to cooperate, follow the rules and deal with frustration. I’m not sure how true this is.

Years ago, I did a lot of counseling with young children who had behavior problems. Often times, I would talk to them about their issues while we would play checkers. I just can’t tell you how many of those games ended with the board being turned over and the game pieces flying through the air.

Sometimes it was even the kids who flung the board.

After a few ugly Old Maid and Hi-Ho Cherry-O incidences, these days when we play games with our grandchildren, my wife Diane makes everyone agree to her pregame, “I won’t make a fuss if I lose” pledge.” It’s sort of like a prenuptial agreement for Milton Bradley, and works rather well.

I suppose unleashing competitiveness is one of the major downsides of playing games. When we lived in Florida, Diane and I often played cards with another couple, whose last name sounded something like “The Greens.”

The Greens were quite competitive and real card sharks. Whenever they kept score, they would always write “Champs” on the tablet as the heading for their score and “Chumps” for ours. One night we lucked out and actually beat them and Diane took over the scorekeeping chores. When she got the tablet, she wrote down “Star-Warriors” for us and “Gangrenes” for them. It didn’t improve our game, but at least it irritated them.

I may be one of the few people who actually received college credit for playing board games. Back in my last semester, I needed a few credit hours to graduate, so I signed up for a seminar on games. I thought it was on psychological game theory, but basically it was just a class on how to play various board games. The professor teaching the course had written to a number of game companies and they donated a large number of games for his use and for our class to review. I heard one of his envious colleagues say that maybe he should teach a seminar on pornography the next semester.

In each class, teams of students had to report on various games that they had reviewed. The professor would then give a very brief lecture and we would spend the rest of the class time playing the games.

In the first session of the semester, all the students were given $500 worth of Monopoly money that had the teacher’s signature stamped on every bill. We were told to use the Monopoly money to wager on the games that we would play. One third of our grade was dependent upon how much Monopoly money we had at the end of the year.

My group reviewed a game called Civil War. We learned that the rules of this game were stacked against the players that had the South. The North had all the railroads and heavy industry and the South could never overcome that advantage unless the Northern players made some huge mistake. Later on in the class, we ignored all the board games and just started playing poker. I lost my chance to get an “A” by trying to draw to an inside straight.

Choosing the right family game can be tricky. For a family get-together, Diane and I once ordered a kit through the mail to make our own version of Monopoly. We called the games “Stawar-opoloy” and used the software that came with it to include a host of embarrassing family incidents and photos. Really, the game was hilarious. However, when we played it with the rest of the family they didn’t seem to see it that way. To our chagrin, after only a couple of rounds, everyone seemed to feign losing interest and all that preparation went down the drain.

For those of you looking for game recommendations this year, I suggest you consider writer Steve Riter’s top five Thanksgiving games list which can be found on the 929jackfm.com website. It includes 1. Apples to Apples 2. Yahtzee 3. Pictionary 4. Texas Holdem and 5. Catch Phrase.

Riter’s list overlaps somewhat with an overall top 10 family game list suggested by Dailypress.com associate producer Don E. Mann. Mann’s list includes some new games as well as several classics. It features 1. Apples to Apples 2. Trivial Pursuit 3. Balderdash 4. Cranium 5. Monopoly 6. Clue 7. Aggravation 8. Scene It 9. Scrabble and 10. Risk.

I think we must have played more than half of these games and have enjoyed most of them. Apples to Apples seems to continue to be one of the big games this year. Diane and I have played the junior version with our grandchildren and it’s a good game to play with younger children, even if they don’t play it right and you lose.

I also think that the HedBanz Game, in which you have to wear a card on your head, looks like fun. It seems to be sort of a more politically correct, kiddie version of the old card game, Indian.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to include one of the favorite Stawar family games, the 1977 classic Pigmania, in which small rubber pigs are used in the place of dice. If you’re lucky, you might throw a “Kissing Bacon” or at least a “Leaning Jowler.” But whatever you do, don’t roll a “Makin Bacon” or an “Oinker.”

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com

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