How Board Games Condition Us
How Board Games Condition Us
I distinctly remember playing board games with my mom, dad, and sister when I was growing up.
We kept them in this tiny, narrow crevice under my bunkbed, which usually meant we’d play the games in my bedroom.
We played Monopoly, The Game of Life, Connect 4, and various other TV-themed games that I don’t recall now.
We kept a number of these same games in whatever elementary or middle school classrooms I was a part of, too. They were the go-to activities when the teacher hadn’t planned anything or when we needed to stay indoors for recess due to the weather.
The other day, a friend and fellow coach posted this meme to her Facebook profile (author unknown).
Funny. But it also got me thinking.
We use games of all kinds to teach skills. Therapists use different categories of games to help their patients, depending on their goals.
So here’s what I started to wonder.
What lessons did we learn from board games when we were children?
What other contradictions exist between what adults espoused when we were most impressionable?
Games and their Inherent Perspectives
Games come with their inherent perspective on life.
For instance, perhaps Uno teaches us that noticing similarities among our peers is positive. In Uno, the person who has the most in common with other players wins (because they can play matching cards and run out, which is the goal of Uno).
In some ways, this could be a good thing.
Or how about Operation? If you even graze the sides of the little crevice, you’ll get the loudest and most obnoxious negative response you could think of.
Sure, you can’t make a mistake as a doctor doing heart surgery, but what about as a kid trying to pen an essay or solve a math problem?
Taboo taught us how to communicate without being direct. As a result, we leave out the most important and relevant words.
Ever had a passive conversation with someone where you wanted to be direct but felt the urge to run and hide? It’s psychologically typical, but in Taboo, we honed this skill.
On the other hand, Taboo also got us thinking creatively about how to express our thoughts. It brought us closer to our friends and family since we needed to rely on inside jokes and shared experiences. A positive way to look at the Taboo perspective is that words don’t tie us together.
Or how about The Game of Life? You spin a wheel and move up the hierarchy of life. But the perspective of this game is that the most traditional route wins. Get married, get a job, have kids, own the most expensive and luxurious property you can afford… and you win at life.
The perspective here is that there’s one way to win life. And we played this as freakin’ children.
Cranium taught us that being a generalist could be valuable. It’s cool to know simple trivia or to be able to build clay figures or to be able to know what song someone is humming. But if you can do all three, you’re a winner in Cranium.
The only game I could think of that felt true to life was Chutes and Ladders.
The entire game is pure luck. Some people fall, some ascend, and no one __ knows who’s winning.
Using Games Intentionally
My aversion to board games these days is that people get overly competitive. Perhaps my highly sensitive nature keeps me from really getting engaged and being comfortable with friendly competition.
Or it’s losing so many games to my older cousins when I was a kid (and then getting teased for constantly losing).
The thing about playing games as a youngster is that you rarely have control over what games are available. Whatever is in your teacher’s closet, or whatever your parents have brought with them from their early 20s, is all you’ve got for a while.
And you play those games and get habituated.
But what if we took matters into our own hands and picked games that helped us address our deficits?
Therapists do precisely this. And they use four different categories of games to do this.
These are low competition, high collaboration, and high self-expression games. They provide a safe atmosphere for the players. Think of icebreakers at your work orientation.
These are competitive games with definitive rules. These games challenge players to perform. Think about any athletic sport; most board games (especially those mentioned above) fall into this category.
These promote competition, challenge, and skill… but also have a component of self-image. These allow a player to have impulse control and develop frustration tolerance. It makes me think about video games, like Celeste, where you fail often. To win, you have to get over that fact and keep grinding. A player could start seeing their world this way; it’s an endless grind, but it’s worth the effort.
These are games that, as you may have already guessed, improve interpersonal thinking/interactions. It reminds me of that scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, where people sit down at a restaurant and order a “conversation” after being shown a menu of topics. Many modern games use this concept, using cards/topics as a starting point for getting to know someone better.
Choose Your Game
Take from this the belief that you have a choice in the types of games you play.
These aren’t just transient, meaningless ways of wasting our time.
They’re a form of practice. A rehearsal for life, just as fiction movies/books tend to be.
So, what game do you need to play for personal growth?