Board Games

My husband and I have an ongoing disagreement.  I like many video games and think within reason they are a positive, not a negative.

Now this is not shoot ‘em up, adult-rated kinds of things, but if our son escapes for an hour or two after school from the “real” world by entering the world of Minecraft or Pokemon, well, he might just find his mom on the other side of the room doing the same thing with Cookie Jam or Candy Crush Saga.

My husband, on the other hand, is on the couch reading a book or outside taking a walk, both super and probably more preferable activities in the eyes of the “experts.”  But unless I have time to really spend on the book, a few minutes reading or a walk spent worrying about what I have to do when I get back cannot help me escape the same way a few moments of matching colored jellybeans can.  Since we don’t watch TV, video games it is.

So to avoid arguing over screen time, we play a lot of Board games in my house.  This is an everyone wins activity.  We are in the same room; we talk to one another; and for the most part no one is bored. It’s a lovely excuse to put aside work for an hour.

Over Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa joined us, so we could really spend time together in a way that was not my son on his tablet, Grandma and I on our phones, Grandpa reading on his Kindle and my husband with his old fashioned turn-the-pages paperback (though there were plenty of those moments too).

New Year’s Eve we had friends over for games.  We ended the evening with Karaoke, but learned a new Board game first.  New Year’s Day we spent with other friends learning new games that they had received for Hanukkah.

Some of my happiest childhood moments were playing games with my family. My parents and our extended family were big card sharks. Hearts was the game of choice at Grandpap’s house. Scrabble and Chinese checkers were a source of fear and excitement on a Saturday night.  Fear because my mother watched me like a hawk and never let me play the easy word or make the easy jump if there was something better available. Excitement, because as I got better there was always a small chance that I might beat her.  Even my favorite times with my sister were playing games; since we are seven years apart, we rarely had anything else in common.

As we were playing a new game with friends last night, my son’s friend became frustrated because he couldn’t meet one of the goal cards he held in his hand. Since I had just explained to a new adult friend that I did spiritual direction and “executive coaching for the soul,” we teased about playing games to learn life skills: maybe you have the wrong goals, maybe it’s time to focus on something else, maybe it isn’t about winning or losing. The young person who was struggling finally chimed in: “What I’m learning is that the red tiles I need are really rare.”  We laughed, because that isn’t a “life skill.”  That’s just a fact of this particular game.

But isn’t it a life skill?  Isn’t it important for us to be able to really identify the facts and what is going on in our lives before we start trying to solve the problems?  If our goal is to collect red tiles and the red tiles are pretty rare, well, we need to know that.  Once we have the facts, then we can decide if we need a different goal or if accomplishing this hard thing is perhaps more important than winning the game after all.

I realize that’s one of the things those Scrabble games with my mother taught me.  Before I could beat her at the whole game I could still feel like a big winner if I found a difficult word without asking for her help.  In fact, to this day, if I have to make a choice, I am likely to play a “cool” word that uses interesting letters than I am to play the word with the highest point value. Then if I lose (oh no!), I still can feel like I have accomplished something.

One thing many people come to me about is that they have ideas or goals, but no idea how to achieve them.  They’ve been working on them sporadically, but always get discouraged or just can’t seem to move forward. Maybe you’re feeling that way now about your New Year’s resolutions.

When we start meeting, there’s generally an idea of what is needed: “I just need a complex planning system, or a fancy online calendar, or an automated to do list, or a bullet journal.”  And any of those things might be true.  But before we get into any of that, I’m listening for the basics. “Does the fact that red tiles are rare affect your ability to do this? Have you considered how that affects your game plan?”

I’m pretty impressed that my 11-year old friend could cut right to the basics. I can’t always get there on my own – sometimes I need a friend for the journey to point out the obvious lack of red tiles in my life. It’s not always news I want to hear, but it gets me moving in the right direction. Of course, that means there’s less time for video games – but who cares, there’s always time for a family board game break!

Do you like board games? Do you have fond memories of playing with family or friends? Do you think the games you play for fun have life lessons to teach you? Are you struggling with a goal or a problem right now? If you take time to think about it, are there underlying issues or “facts” that affect your ability to achieve your objectives? Would it help to talk it over with someone who might help you see something you’re missing?

So another reason I tend to play video games instead of reading when my husband is reading is because I always want to share the funny/interesting/important parts of my book right then – which interrupts his train of thought. It is not uncommon for him to just set his book aside and wait for my next amazing insight. I drive him crazy!

Likewise, I try to process my problems or next steps on my business plan or whatever with him – and after a while he gently suggests I take it to my spiritual director. If your spouse needs a break, come process with me at Openings: Let the Spirit in. First session is free!

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