NerdFest 2021 – The Allure of the Game

While I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to play board and table top games. I spent a lot of time with my friends playing Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly, Axis and Allies, and any new game that we could get our hands on. Most of the games had not been updated for years, and it caused us to think of ways that we could create our own games to see what other worlds we could create or how we could adapt the games we already loved to make them more exciting. Some of them got a little too complicated while others were a little too simple, but every once in awhile we hit that sweet spot and created a game that we all really loved, and it became our new favorite.

As years went by, my friends moved to other parts of the country or got to busy to play a game. Soon all of these games got put away into a closet and collected dust. I am actually not quite sure what happened to all of them after I moved away to college because my parents eventually moved into a new house and I don’t know if the games made the move or not. At the time, I didn’t care much because the idea of playing a game seemed childish and I was too busy with my life.

When I moved overseas, I was looking for that way to connect with people again. There was always the option of heading out to the bars, and that can be fun for awhile, but after working in bars for so long, I knew that this could get old after a little while. I was lucky enough to get hooked up with a Dungeons and Dragons group in Korea, and it got me interested in the game again. A lot about it had changed since my days of hacking and slashing my way through dungeons in search of riches. The Wizards of the Coast had bought the rights to the game, and added to the story aspect of the game. It changed how the game was played, made it simpler and yet more of a sandbox that allowed creative minds to play off of each other to create wonderful story moments. Being an English teacher and a writer, I instantly got sucked back into this world of table top games.

Then Covid happened.

I know that there are a lot of people out there that here that statement and divide their lives to before this event and after it. The pandemic has changed many people’s lives and the way that they look at the world. Many people can look at this in a bad way, and there are times where I fall into this category. But not everything that has happened during this world wide event has been all bad. I went on the search for things that my wife and I could do while being confined in our house that would not drive us crazy, and this brought me back to a love that I had in my childhood with board games. I also did not realize how much the hobby had changed over the years and how much it is now directed towards an adult audience. There are so many games out there with amazing puzzles to unlock your imagination, and tickle your strategic ingenuity. It was hard to decide which games I should get into first because there were so many out there, but I did some research, and with the help of my new favorite YouTube channel, Shut Up and Sit Down, I was able to find a couple that I would love as well as my wife.

It helped us get through that tough time this year, and we still pull out a couple of these games from time to time to play. But there was another benefit to them that I did not expect as much.

It introduced me to a whole new group of people who shared the same interest. These board games have not only become a way to challenge myself intellectually, but also to visit and hang out with people on a regular basis. It is a trend that I hope continues because I am loving the games that I am playing, whether it is a simple card game or a complex role playing game. They all tell stories and I get to be a part of those stories that are being told. And most importantly I get to also create stories with other people as well.

Until the next NerdFest, thanks for coming along.

Games are Important – The Holidays Day 16

Last night I gathered around the dining room table with my parents, and My sister’s family to play a game of Codenames. It is one of the newer games that has helped bring about the resurgence of the popularity of board games, and I can see why because it is a smart game that with endless possibilities that will never let the game get old. It would almost impossible with all of the way the cards can be laid out that you would never experience the same type of mental connections that make this game interesting in all of the amounts of times that you get together to play the game. Its gameplay is also unique, and I have never experienced another game like it. Getting together with my family on a Friday night to play a board game might sound like a boring way to spend the start of a weekend, but I tend to disagree, and I think it is part of the reason why board games are becoming big business again.

These games are important. First of all, they are a social event. This is something that you cannot get from television or video games as well as you can from a board game. Television used to be a social event with people gathering around to experience the same story at the same time, but people still remained quiet so as not to disturb the action on the screen and didn’t really interact with each other. In recent years, it has gotten even worse. People rarely watch television in real time. Instead, they grab their tablet or phone, find a quiet corner of their house and experience the show on their own. The same can be said for video games. Yes, there are a couple of games like Madden, Smash Brothers, and Mario Kart that lend themselves to people getting together to play, and they have even set up on-line communities that allow people to interact over headsets, but the speed of the game takes over and the opportunity to talk gets taken away, and people become more interested in their reaction times rather than talking to each other.

Board games like Codenames are actually designed for people to interact with each other. There is enough downtime during the game to allow people to talk about their days and what is going on in their lives, and when the action is going on there is collaboration that is happening that once again forces people to interact with each other. It might not be as slick as a video game or cost as much to produce as a television show, but for some reason, this interaction with other people ends up more satisfying then getting together around a screen. I feel that after I play a game that I have made a stronger connection with the people I played with rather than when I sit down and watch something on the screen.

As a teacher, I also think that board games are important. On Fridays in my Creative Writing class, we always play a game of some kind such as Gloom, Balderdash, Magnetic Poetry, Exquisite Corpse, or Line-by-line Story. My students love these days the best and not just because it allows for some downtime in their hectic schedules, but because they get something out of the experience as well. The games are designed to spark creativity, and help my students with their writing whether it is with their voice, word play, or putting together a tighter plot. They are learning while having fun. In fact, I believe that when you are having fun is when real learning is taking place. This is when true engagement is taking place. This is part of the reason that I always try to make my classroom a fun place to be.

Codenames is a great example of how a game can be fun and at the same time a learning tool. It requires that the Spy Master makes connections to various words spread out on the table, and communicate that connection with the use of only one word. It requires that people start to see the connections in words. It also forces players to see that words can have multiple meanings. There is a lot going on in this game through some mental challenges. And it wasn’t like we were all sitting at the table staring at the matrix we created with intense concentration. We were laughing, talking, and having a good time.

This is why games are important. I am happy for this resurgence of games, and I am amazed at the different ways that people have come up with to challenge us while still being entertaining. It is the reason why when I have the opportunity to play a game, I always take it up.