Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Five Games You Need To Play To Live Well

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates
The right games give us moments of self-examination about the essential activities of our life. Games are a distillation of life's choices in concentrated form.

We utilize skill and chance in all contexts of life, such as trading on the stock exchange, deciding where to go to college, or figuring out what to wear.

When you play games, you focus and reflect on essential activities. You take control of actions you use all the time and, by doing so, learn to live more deliberately. If you miss these opportunities, you will have missed out on understanding a part of your own life.

1. Role Playing

All people role play.

We turn in one moment from arguing with our spouse to graciously greeting a guest. We can be coy and demure in one situation, and brash in another.

Role playing is an essential psychological activity that helps us examine the roles we play through contrast. By deliberately assuming personalities different from our own, we come to know more about who we are.

You can role play in a psychologist's office or group therapy, but it is more fun and more accessible to role play using a game (not to mention less expensive).

The classic role-playing game is Dungeons and Dragons, which sounds like it's only for geeks, but it isn't. Although the source books present a fantasy theme as an example, the system can be used for any type of situation with any type of characters, such as role playing super heroes, trauma victims, or even cats.

There are many other good systems out there, or you can simply play a free form system of your own devising.

2. Gambling

Life is full of risks.

Being able to evaluate risk, take a chance on the unknown, and limit your losses, are crucial elements of life.

Some of us are addicted to chance; unfortunately, it is usually those who can't grasp when they are in a losing situation facing bad odds. Some of us won't take any chances, even when, with proper preparation, we have much to gain and little to lose.

In the context of a game, we can learn to evaluate, dare, win, lose, and rebuild. We confront our faith in ourselves and in higher powers. We gamble all the time; some time spent understanding how gambling really works is a good lesson for making better choices in other areas of our life.
"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss; ..." If, Rudyard Kipling
Gamble in a safe environment and with a friend. If you may be addicted to gambling, don't play for money; use poker chips.

Gambling games include Poker, Backgammon, and dice games.

3. Abstract Board Game

We live in a haze of confusion over where our own desires end and other's begin.

Many of us simply walk around tending only to ourself, without remembering the Other, except how frustrating it is that they don't seem to be doing what we want.

Nothing refocuses our sense of Self and Other, our personal boundaries, like an abstract board game. With a few pieces, some simple rules, and a clear head, you remember that the dance of life is one of mutual cooperation and competition.

A two-player abstract game is a zero-sum experience. Everything that helps you harms your opponent, and vice versa. There can only be a single winner.

But, win or lose, both players will have experienced all the aspects of communication necessary between two people: how to treat the Other respectfully, how to persevere, how to overcome, how to lose gracefully, how to win gracefully.

There's no better game for this than the classic game of Go. But if you're overwhelmed by this game, you can just as easily play any other abstract game, such as Memory, Rummy, Checkers, or Chess.

4. Negotiation Game

Where abstract games help you to learn how to negotiate with the Other, multi-player negotiation games help you learn how to negotiate with groups.

Group dynamics can be chaotic; you are no longer necessarily the center of attention. Two players can talk to each other and gain against you. You must learn the importance of speaking to different people with different needs and the art of successfully advancing mutual benefits.

You will learn that good personal skills can turn a losing position into a winning one; and bad skills can make you isolated and ignored or even attacked.

You have to learn how to not hold personal grudges, as the results of one game must not carry over into the next.

The classic negotiation game is Diplomacy. It is a tough and harsh game of political promises and backstabbing. Too harsh for some people. Also, it takes seven people and a good few hours to really play well.

But any game with meaningful interaction can teach proper negotiation skills. An excellent choice for players of all ages is Settlers of Catan.

5. Party Game

Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed.

Too often we get caught up in the process of surviving to remember that there is a reason we do all that work: to relax with friends and enjoy each other's company.

Also, it is good to take some time playing in an environment where winning is not the ultimate goal; where everyone, no matter what age or with what skill, can contribute and enjoy him or herself. Where we are all accepted.

A good party game is the catalyst for a good social event. A game such as Cranium that provides opportunities for all types of play is a good choice for this type of event, but any party game, such as Charades, Pictionary, or similar also works.

Games are not an escape from life. They are a distillation of life. There is no one too young, or too old, to play games. Find time to connect.

It's time well spent.

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