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Why and How We Play — An Exploratory Journal

Editor:  Stephen Sniderman
Editor/Publisher:   Kate Jones

No. 2  (April 2000)

In this Issue:
The Game Is Afoot! by Casey Fahy
Family Resemblances, by Wayne Saunders
Two Word Games from John Blasdale
Lost Lives: The Illusion of Rules, by Darrell King
Finite and Infinite Games, reviewed by Jacob Davenport
How to play Chessence, by Stephen Sniderman
Word Contest:   Jumping for Joy
Down with Ties! by Stephen Sniderman
Game Profile: The Game of Y
A Rooky Puzzle:  And Then There Was One

Guest editorial
The Game Is Afoot!
by Casey Fahy

Why is it that just the mention of a game is thrilling? Some people do not like to play games — but everyone likes the idea of a mental challenge, which is why "game" is a universal metaphor used by figures like Sherlock Holmes to suggest the fun of solving a mystery, figuring out a solution, and winning the reward.

In this sense, games are a metaphor for life. People have often referred to life as a game, though pejoratively. But in a more positive and more realistic way, the game of life does entail solving mysteries, figuring out solutions, and winning the reward that comes with mastering any endeavor.

That is why games are an excellent way for children to learn about life. In safe "practice" sessions games teach valuable lessons about living and growing and how to achieve goals.

Most important, games teach cause and effect to children. They teach that nothing comes without brainwork, that there are rules, that reality to be commanded must be obeyed. They teach children how to cope with not getting the right answer right off the bat, an essential emotional skill.

Games teach children the joy of getting better at something, as well, the necessary positive reinforcement that reassures them that losing isn't so bad and is a temporary state of things which they have the power to change.

Games with elements of chance in them also teach an important lesson:  how to adapt to the cards you are dealt, and to make the most of them. They teach that even if you get dealt a bad hand, smart play over time can pay off. Games of pure chance, such as outright gambling, teach them nothing good — except, hopefully, that gambling is stupid.

Games also provide a safe arena for all human virtues and vices to be tested and played out. Arrogant winners soon find scorn and resentment from those they have beaten, and sore losers are also chided and/or encouraged to realize that all they have to do is change their attitude and they, too, can get back into the game.

Teamwork in games teaches trust and leadership, even through all the temporary strife of unsuccessful attempts at teamwork, trust and leadership which inevitably accompanies the playing of games.

The most marvelous and unique quality of games is that the short lifespan of a game makes sure that loss and victory, success and failure can happen quickly and thus get the whole picture of life across within a single sitting. The fact that games are a microcosm of life allows the experience to be digested whole, and in the right balance.

A child who plays no games might have a crushing experience, an awful try-out for choir or a dismal failure to give a speech, and have only that failure to dwell on until the next significant moment comes along.

The child who plays games knows that setbacks are a temporary part of life and that there's always a next time when, with some effort, one can have more success. The game-playing child knows this from his or her own ample if miniature experience playing games, and that experience makes all the shocks of real life easier to handle and to respond to.

Finally, games teach how to deal with competition or, more generally, with other people. As long as there is more than one person, there will be competition, i.e. the application of at least two competencies, one of which will probably turn out to be more efficacious in any given circumstance.

This is true even when people are not trying to compete. How do we deal with that? Games teach us not to settle for another person's being ahead of us and not to retire from the world after defeat but to use the fact of another's victory to inspire us and even reassure us that we, too, can progress further.

Indeed, games also teach us that sometimes other people have different aptitudes which we may not have, or even care to have. Games teach us, in short, the most healthy and practical way to deal with competition, and with life itself, by providing small, accelerated lessons in social interaction. So games are not "just games," after all! Let the games begin!

Casey Fahy is a novelist, poet, playwright, scriptwriter,
movie reviewer, and author of critical commentary.

The Life of Games
No. 2   (April 2000)
©2000 Kadon Enterprises, Inc