When I was growing up my family spent a lot of time playing games. Board games, word games, travel games. We had games for every event and occasion.
Some of my fondest memories are of family game night and staying up well past my bedtime playing games. Every Christmas we would buy a new family game. Memories of my Dad and games he loved to play—Rummikub, Skip-Bo, Triominos— are those I often return to for comfort. Games were always a central part of my memories of childhood.
As adults, my family still loves games. Now we’ve moved on to games like Hand and Foot where we like to joke with our Mom that she needs to speed it up and organize her cards faster. But it is those times when they kids have gone to sleep and my sisters, my mom and me play games together that allows us to create new memories as a family of adults to build on the memories of childhood.
I think I’ve successfully passed my love for games onto my children. We enjoy playing games of all kinds together. We even have games we bring with us when we go to restaurants and play during our waiting moments. I get excited as Jack grows older and we can play longer games like Ticket to Ride and Ten Days in the USA. Even though Jack is the only one who loves Flux like I do and Lucy is particularly fond of Banana Party and Don’t Rock the Boat we all come together to play games.
We use games to learn about the country and the world, explore new worlds, figure out mathematics and patterns, learn collaboration and competition, and to just have fun. And, in Macomb we are blessed to have our own game store, Kozmic Game Emporium, that creates a multitude of opportunities for our community to play games and participate in gaming events.
Last year, Kozmic Game Emporium hosted the first Lizzie Magie Design a Board Game Contest in honor of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Magie, a Macomb native who was the creator of The Landloards Game which eventually became Monopoly. When we learned about the contest last year, I tried to convince Jack to make a game, but he just wanted to see what others had done. It was a great experience to see all the games community members had created, to meet the designers, and to see people come together over games.
The Lizzie Magie contest was a success last year, and it happened again this year. So, instead of taking the PARCC test in March, Jack and two of his friends, Sam and Matthew, spent their time designing a board game. We spent mornings coming up with the game basics, designing cards, a board, rules, creating game pieces and deciding how the battles would occur.
We used my newly purchased laminator to make cards. We had other neighborhood boys adding their opinions and suggestions as I had tweens running in and out of our house as we worked on putting the finishing touches on the game. Between Nerf Wars and required breaks, the boys came up with a game they were proud of, could play through, and were excited to turn into the contest.
As I watched three 5th grade boys design their game I saw collaboration, compromise, excitement, drafting, revision, critique, nervousness, and pride. They made me laugh. They worked well with each other coming up with new ideas and giving one another feedback when they thought they needed changes. They took breaks (maybe some imposed by me when I needed them to take things outside) in order to be able to concentrate on their purpose. They wrote and drafted and revised and edited. They thought deeply and critically about not only their game, but the other games they played in order to plan their game.
As they created and completed their game, I saw everything I want my students to do when I create an assignment. I want them to think critically, read closely, plan, collaborate, critique, draft, write, and revise. I want them to create work that they can share outside of the classroom and use the work beyond my class. More than anything, I want them to be excited and proud of what they’ve done. I want them to share it with others. The game design contest allowed Jack, Sam, and Matthew to do all these things.
Games create community. Games are a way of learning about our world and to participate with others—whether it’s a friendly competition or a fierce grudge match. Tuesday night we went to the Lizzie Magie Design a Board Game Contest Awards Ceremony. The boys came in second place for their game. They were excited and proud and posed for pictures. After the awards, people played games with the designers. They were able to teach others about their game, share their work, and be part of a community.
Even though by the time this airs the game contest will be over, it doesn’t mean you can’t work on your own game. Think about the game you’ve always wanted to play and make it. Go into Kozmic Game Emporium and play some games you haven’t played before. Head in for Board Game night or Puzzle Night or one of the many other community events. Check out the winning games of this year’s contest.
Games bring people together and allow us to think and have fun and sometimes just be silly. They teach us about ourselves and those we play with. I have found that playing games with my family, my friends, and even my students is a way to create a community and to learn about people, their likes and their personalities. As we move into the summer months and spend time with our families, go on vacations, and kids are home from school, get your family and friends together and play some games.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.