Slice of Life: Games people play


To keep us, heaven forbid, from having a solitary minute to just think, there’s a game nearby either to watch or play. There are games on the computer, the phone, the tablet, in the newspaper and on television.

In a pub you might be able to play with the bar dice, play bingo on the computer screen or watch a baseball, football, basketball, soccer, golf or hockey game. One can play video or wireless games that blur fantasy with reality and life with death. Online or in print there is Sudoku, Ken-Ken, crosswords, cryptograms and dozens of other word games. There are games of chance, games of logic, games of strategy and games that combine any or all of the above.

If, after a numbing day at work, you are in the mood for a mindless game, there are many. I used to be addicted to Tetris. I learned how to play the theme song on my mandolin. Helpmate was also into Tetris and was much better than I was, but then changed to Snood, and now Jewel. I used to play Text-Twist a lot when I had a smartphone, and a similar game on the iPad, Word Warp, I think. Of course, I love crosswords and Scrabble — thanks, Dad, for that!

Games. We love them. One of the reasons is that they are some of the first real cognitive acts we do. You can play peek-a-boo with an infant and hide and seek with a toddler. They soon graduate to puzzles, like putting the horsey in the barn and the piggy in the pen. I marvel that our granddaughter, now three-plus, can play games on the iPad, but I shouldn’t really be surprised.

Many deride some types of games as trivial nonsense, but studies have proven that they can have unexpected benefits. The dexterity needed to finger the buttons on a video controller can actually forestall the onset of arthritis, and brain-games keep those little neuro-pathways used and useful.

Flashcards, a type of game really, work and work well. In the classroom, I used a flashcard program called Quizlet, which combines flashcards with video games to teach vocabulary. Studies show that such techniques, when used in combination with other study methods, enhance learning and retention.

If you’re like me and worried about your brain turning to mush as you age, there’s a really cool program you can subscribe to called Lumosity. Lumosity targets areas of your brain that need work, and then provides games that improve them. You can compare your profiles against others your age and track progress.

For nearly every game there is an online version, but nothing can really substitute for playing with real people in real time. You can’t watch someone’s eyebrows twitch with an online poker game. And when the power goes out and the lanterns go on, a good selection of board games helps to weather the storm.
Some games have stood the test of time.

Games that I played more than half a century ago with my siblings are still popular today. We played a dozen different card games, but rummy 500 was our favorite. My dad also taught us how to play pinochle and canasta, and tried to teach us bridge. Our favorite board games were Monopoly and Risk, a passion we shared with Kramer and Newman, from Seinfeld. (Gotta watch the YouTube clip!) We’ve been introduced lately to Settlers of Catan, and at parties we sometimes play Catch-Phrase.

When I moved to Shelter Island somebody introduced me to backgammon. Talk about endurance, here’s a game that’s been around for 5,000 years. It received a major boost in interest with the introduction of the doubling cube in the 1920s and the game has persevered. There is an element of chance involved, but it’s how you strategically play the roll of the dice that determines the eventual outcome. Just like many other board games, there are professionals who play backgammon in tournaments for money. I will probably never rise to that level, but I still really enjoy playing. And winning.

I noticed over the summer that there was a backgammon board at Redding’s, and once or twice I’ve set it up and played with unsuspecting passersby. It got me thinking of whether there were any more people like me who wanted to play regularly and it seemed like a perfect retirement activity to add to the jillion things on my current list.

Where did I go? The Shelter Island Library of course. And while they haven’t exactly decided to add a room to handle the crowds, there has been a bit of interest.

Alternate Mondays beginning on October 6 at 3 p.m. anyone interested in learning the game, honing their skills or just enjoying playing is invited.

By the way, this is by no means restricted to gray-heads, but players of all ages are welcome. You can sign up by visiting the library or by calling them at 749-0042, or just show up this Monday. If you have a board, bring one.