February 15, 2010
Games without frontiers
When I was a boy growing up in the late sixties and the 70's we played a lot of games. There were indoor games and outdoor games, and many of those games have been played by generations of people already.
You might recognize some of them...
Parchesi, checkers, chess, chinese checkers, yatze, risk, monopoly, life, sorry and various card games such as go fish, war and rummy.
These games had rules and boundaries that we had to learn in order to successfully play the game. I was in elementary school when I learned how to play chess from my older brother. I remember once getting so mad at him for so easily beating me that I tipped the board over. Even though the game had definite rules and boundaries, I obviously did not.
The outdoor games we played in our neighborhood were a little more free ranging and the boundaries not quite as defined, especially in the summer when we were off school. The image of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn come to my mind as I think about it fondly. We played all of the standard outdoor group games like kick the can, capture the flag and hide and seek. These games had rules that had to be constantly group enforced, because the whole neighborhood was our playground.
"You have to hide only in these four yards!" or "you can't stand that close to the can!" we'd yell. But other than that, we decided what to play and we ran all over the neighborhood. In other games without defined rules or boundaries, we scaled fences, crawled under fences, crept through hedges and hunted each other with toy guns and flashlights. And mimicking some of our favorite heroes that we read about in books, such as the hardy boys, we hunted all over the neighborhood for clues to a mystery we made up. We also built a raft and floated on the mighty Mississippi River and built a treehouse on an island. The only real rule we really worried about during those unbridled years of imagination and freedom was that we had to be home before dark. And on several occasions we discovered there were strict consequences for breaking that rule. Being grounded was a horrible limitation to our ever-expanding universe.
As I was thinking about how to write this journal entry, I thought of the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite artists, Peter Gabriel. Games without Frontiers...
"Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane. Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again. Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt. Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it..."
In our youth some of the games we played were about expanding our boundaries. That was true with how we played with our toys and how we began to play with girls. With our bicycles we built ramps and spread them further and further apart to see who could jump our bicycle the furthest, like Evil Knievel, another one of our childhood heroes. With girls, we wrestled with them and teased them, and found new excitement in teaching them our games.
"Jeux Sans Frontieres" Games without frontiers.
As life progressed, we found more and more that even the games that made us feel free and stretched our imagination, had their limits. Especially when caught doing something that adults didn't approve of. And when the girl we so seriously considered our girlfriend was mad at us for something we learned new rules. We did not understand all of the rules, but we were willing and ready to explore without frontiers.
"If looks could kill, they probably will, In games without frontiers - war without tears. Jeux sans Frontieres."
The older I got the more I also learned that even in games like chess and go with very strict boarders and rules, I've discovered that the limits are in our imagination and knowledge. The more I learn to play those games within the rules, the more I learn that the outcome is not guaranteed and it's often the creative, out of the square solution that wins the game. For instance once I played and beat an early computer chess game and discovered a glitch in the programming. It did not understand anything outside of it's pre-programmed strategies. When I moved my pawn all the way down on the right side of the board, it reacted very strangely and left it's defenses wide open.
It got me thinking, what games are there, that I can play as an adult that expand my mind and challenge the limits of my imagination? I can write, challenging my own thoughts and conceptions and arrange words and ideas on a page to convey a meaning. I can look at design problems with a 'what-if' attitude to find solutions that might not have occurred to me or others. When we were kids playing with our action figures, we were constantly making up the play we were having them act in. In games without frontiers, it's our imagination and known limits we are stretching. It's exploring and testing the waters of the unknown. Learning the unknown rules and how to apply them in unique and challenging situations.
"Jeux Sans Frontieres"
Now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head all day ;-) Thank you Peter Gabriel.