We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Most of us cherish memories of playing in our younger years. Outdoors we whiled away the hours with hide and seek, kick the can, scrub baseball and more. Indoors we played card and board games, Charades and I Spy or, to be naughty, truth or dare and spin the bottle.
Differentiating among the nouns of game, sport and pastime can be confusing. Is bowling a game or a sport, for instance? Is a jigsaw or crossword puzzle a game or a pastime? And what constitutes playing, or does it encompass the three nouns? If reading is a pastime — “a pleasant means of amusement, recreation, or sport” — am I playing when rereading Black Like Me?
Regardless of definitions, playing proves its worth. It helps us manage stress, enhances our personal relationships (unless we’re sore losers or boastful winners!), teaches us useful skills, and contributes to our successful aging. Playing can also keep our brains active, possibly reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
To my good fortune, I come from an extended family that loves to play; my siblings and I were weaned on games of all varieties. As soon as our hands could hold a range of cards, for example, our grandparents played Hearts with us. This trick-taking game can serve as a precursor to Bridge, as happened with my brother Tim who played professionally. Hearts also led us to a game dubbed Oh Hell, which my generation plays with our children and perhaps in the future with our grandchildren.
ABOUT POPULAR GAMES
- Bridge enjoyed its golden years from the 1930s into the ’60s. At one point 44% of households in North America had at least one active player. Today’s devotees Bill Gates and Warren Buffett claim the game sharpens their creative minds and business acumen.
- UNESCO proposed International Chess Day in 1966, and it’s been observed on July 20 ever since. The day celebrates the long history of Chess, developed in India during the fifth century. Two people playing this mentally challenging game overcome any barriers of class, language and culture.
- Early explorers and whalers played Cribbage and introduced it to the Inuit through trade-related interactions. The Collection of the Hudson Bay Company — the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world — at the Manitoba Museum has several Cribbage boards made from walrus tusks that the Inuit produced for trade or as souvenirs in the 19th century.
- Jigsaw and Crossword puzzles test a person’s ingenuity or knowledge. During the Depression, aficionados discovered that working on jigsaws reduced their stress. During the pandemic, demand for jigsaws outpaced supply. In A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009), renowned author Margaret Drabble offers a reason befitting these times: “puzzles give you an illusion of order and progress when all around is chaos.”
- Although difficult to pinpoint its inception, Mah Jong was being played in China in the mid 1800s and in the United States in the 1920s. Culturally it became a game played by Jewish women. In fact, Jewish women founded the National Mah Jong League in 1937 in the U.S. Although the game has greater recognition in Asia, its popularity continues to grow in North America.
- In 1903 a leftwing feminist called Lizzy Magie invented the board game we know as Monopoly — but she never gets the credit. Rather, Charles Darrow, a salesman from Philadelphia, patented the most successful board game of all time in 1935. The game’s success with Parker Brothers made Darrow the first ever millionaire game designer.
- The history of Sudoku dates back to an 18th century Swiss mathematician’s game called Latin Squares. In 1979 Howard Garns, a freelance puzzle inventor from Connersville, Indiana, introduced the modern game of Sudoku. The game got its name in Japan where puzzlers buy over 600,000 Sudoku magazines per month. In U.S. newspapers, Sudoku appeared first in The Conway Daily Sun (New Hampshire) in 2004. All leading newspapers of the world now feature the puzzle.
- Chris Haney, a picture editor at the Montreal Gazette, and Scott Abbott, a sports journalist for The Canadian Press, conceived Trivial Pursuit in 1979 when playing Scrabble and drinking beer. Time magazine called Trivial Pursuit “the biggest phenomenon in game history” after its commercial release in 1981.
Other board games that resonate with boomers? Backgammon, Checkers, Clue, Risk, Scrabble and more. I may discuss them on International Games Day, observed annually in November since 2008.
For many people games have been a salvation during the pandemic. We can play them individually, with those in our bubble, or challenge our friends online — all the while reaping the benefits of playing! •
P.S. What games preoccupy you? Please share stories of your favourite ones in the comments below.