About a half a century ago I spent a lot of time playing games; they weren’t the kind that involved telling fibs or ringing doorbells and running away – more cavorting around Highgate Woods being a hobbit or Aragorn son of Arathorn. Other games involved my sister’s tremendous dolls-house and all the characters therein, who were taken on journeys of discovery to far off lands in the back garden, where they did battle with appalling environmental problems, jungles and deserts and encountered inexplicable and seriously oversized hazards. We also played lots of board and card games, and I frequently sulked when I lost, which I have learned not to do, now that I am professing to be grown-up.
Once my parents found me sleepwalking in the house, and as my mother followed my uncertain progress, I climbed into the bath. “What are you doing, dear?” she asked… “It’s Julia’s game,” I explained, through my sleepy disorientation, as she guided me back to bed.
Years later I spent many long and lovely hours playing games with Julia’s three sons, and more recently but less frequently with her granddaughters, something she would love to have been able to do, but sadly isn’t around to do so.
Why do we need to play games? It’s all to do with the harmony of life… or so it seems to me. So much of our time is spent caring for others, feeding ourselves, earning a living, keeping our lives and our surroundings in good order – we need things that apparently don’t belong to the nitty gritty of everyday existence. Reading, watching TV and films are OK for escapism but playing games is part of the scenery of life.
I don’t have a great interest in computer games, or role playing games with knights and dwarves and whatnot, I would rather keep the land of fantasy in my head, or with Middle Earth, the Seven Kingdoms and Narnia.
My preferred game is an Italian form of Canasta, called Samba in this country. It is played with a partner, in fours, three packs of cards, and it makes ordinary canasta look like happy families, without the happiness. Once I went on a weekend break with three friends to Southwold. One of our number had a deep seated hatred for card games, but once bitten she became so hooked that we found ourselves playing at six in the morning in the hotel lounge with the hotel porter hoovering around our feet.
Italian Canasta is a compelling and beautifully balanced game, allowing players to chat between the action. It moves with trends – trends of luck, patterns of winning and losing, and an elegantly structured handicap system, so that the better you do, the more difficult it becomes to win.
There are so many metaphors for life, and a good card game does the job beautifully. Games provide an insight into how seriously we take ourselves, and how able we are to face uncertainty and change. Gambling is a complete waste of time, it’s the adventure of the cards themselves, and the shape of the game that provides the unexpected story. Once one picks up a hand of cards, those strong, weak or disappointing symbols and patterns look back at you like old friends, and what happens thereafter can never ever be predicted. It’s like the game of life including the scary bits, even if the scariest thing is the prospect of the much loved enemy picking up a pile of discarded cards, and getting a score that makes your eyes water.
Thank you lovely friends and family for making it all possible… if it wasn’t for my fellow players I would never have half so much fun and sensible silliness in my life.