So, here’s the thing, I’ve been playing board games, card games, role-playing games, and the like all of my life. But no matter what I play, I’ve learned that what really matters is how I play, because that makes all the difference.
I had an athlete once tell me that, “This is serious. It’s a game. You have to win!” and I couldn’t disagree more. Think about your life for a moment; in school- you have to pass, in jobs- you have to succeed, and marriage is something that requires a 100% commitment to making it work…but games?
Games are the one area of our lives wherein failure results in no lasting penalty at all. You don’t have to repeat your freshman year if you lose at Warhammer 40K. You don’t lose your source of income when you’re armies are wiped off the board in Risk. And your wife will not leave you if you fail to reach the high score in Donkey Kong (unless she has lots of weird issues). Games are in fact the one place where it is safe to lose in a world that can be brutally hard on failure.
Thus, games are the ultimate escape from our chained reality. Games offer us the chance to explore possibilities in a relatively consequence-free environment as we let down our heavy load. And once the game is done, we often find ourselves refreshed and ready for the next challenge our real life throws at us.
In short, games are for fun.
Now, my first structured game was probably chess. My father taught me when I was six years old, and I have loved the game ever since. First, he showed me how the pieces moved and we played a few games to give me the hang of it. Later he told me that you needed to say “check” when threatening another person’s king, and then he taught me how to castle and how to get my queen back by advancing a pawn. So even at six, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the game. Dad made it easy by gradually pulling me deeper and deeper in.
My dad also lost to a six-year-old surprisingly often. He would set up situations that put himself in peril just to see if I noticed them and applaud me when I did. Did I win all the time? Heck no. Dad kicked my butt about 75% of the time, however, he never gloated and was always quick to congratulate me when I played better than I did in the game before.
I still love chess. My dad, Ronald J. Callahan, passed away in 1980.
Now, a few years back, I was visiting my mom and my step-father had this beautiful hardwood chess set laid out on his coffee table. I complimented him on it, and he challenged me to a game. “Sure, I’d love to,” I said and we picked who would play white and who would play black. When we sat down, he warned me that he’d worked as an ad manager for the National Chess Federation and had spent his lunch breaks learning advanced moves from the masters. “Cool,” I replied, as I got ready for what I hoped would be a challenging game. It was challenging indeed, but more so for him. I won…I won twice.
My step-father did not take it well. In fact, he stormed out of the room and we’ve never played chess since. Frankly, I still feel sorry for the guy. At seventy, he has yet to learn a lesson I did at six; that games are for fun.
Sure, you try to win at games, but only because trying to win is part of the fun. If you lose but enjoyed the challenge–you won. If you lose but learned something that makes you a better player next time–you won. If you walk away from the game table feeling refreshed and ready for life’s real challenges–you won big!
And if you take the wrong mindset into gameplay, you are not winning regardless of how the game ends, you are just wasting your time.
By Clayton J. Callahan