Sunday, August 3, 2008

Childhood Games

When Becca and I were younger, even than we are now, our family used to travel a lot by car. We would sit in the back and constantly ask how much longer. Then I learned to estimate the remaining time myself, and kept myself entertained by constantly updating my estimates, and asking instead for the raw data. I don't know why my parents never taught me to find that data myself. Meanwhile, Becca entertained herself by memorizing license plate numbers. We also entertained ourselves by playing various games such as twenty questions. However, these games often degenerated into arguments about definitions and rules. We also came up with games to play at home. And there were the games we played at the Farm.

The Farm was a magical place when we were kids. It was owned by a family with three boys, one a few years younger than Becca, one a month younger than I, and one a few years older. We, and others, played many role playing games, mostly invented by the oldest brother. The most interesting was originally called the Country Game, in which players were rulers of countries on the Farm, with the oldest brother being the game master and playing the role of the Monsters, which ranged from friendly to neutral to not so friendly. The Game evolved over the years, becoming increasingly complex. As I recall, originally one country was run by the middle brother and me, while another was run by Becca and the youngest brother, with the rest of the world controlled by more or less indifferent Monsters. The rules were ill defined and rather arbitrary, and all of us were far too creative, intelligent, and stubborn for our own good. The Parents eventually got fed up with the bickering and banned the Country Game. As I recall, they, in an attempt to control us, wrote down specific legislation banning the Country Game. We developed other games without the persistent nature of the Country Game but after a while the GM decided to start a new game called the Game of Nations. We were a bit older then, so the Parents let us play so long as it didn't get out of hand.

I learned a lot from the games at the Farm. Like don't play tag in a cornfield without adequate protection or play blind man's bluff in a crowded garage. And that roughhousing in front of a lit fireplace might not be a good idea. I also learned that when your sister comes in and everyone is eating a delicious beef dinner, it's unkind to say Pookie, her favorite cow who was badly behaved, sure is good now. Ok, I already knew that but just couldn't resist.

Another Magical Place was our great grandmothers beautiful house in Issaquah, which at that time was still rural. The house featured Scandinavian furniture and exotic toys. Our step great grandfather's woodworking shop was in the basement. The home was delicately placed in a large yard and garden surrounded by forests with wild huckleberrys. In a neighboring plot lived a teenage brother and sister who would play with us and teach us which local plants were dangerous and to navigate the nearby forests. When our great grandmother died, her husband sold the place and I haven't seen him since. He taught me to cut a piece of corn stalk and suck the sugar out. I remember these childhood games fondly, but they are bittersweet memories, for as I grew older they lost their magic. Or perhaps I lost my childhood magic. Around middle school, which is a difficult time anyway, climing trees and trying to dig holes to China simply weren't fun anymore. Maybe there is a Law of Conservation of Magic and I had to lose my magic so other kids could inherit it. Maybe that is why people sometimes complain that kids seem to grow up to fast now: the world is overpopulated and there is not enough magic to go around.

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