When I was a kid, I always wanted my parents to get me toys for Chanukah. This was as opposed to:
A. Chanukah gelt, which immediately went into a little envelope in my parents’ room so that the five dollars I got from my great-grandmother could someday go towards my mortgage.
B. Clothing, because the way I saw it, my parents were going to buy me clothing whether or not it was Chanukah, and there was no point wasting a perfectly good Chanukah present on a pair of pants.
Nothing brings a family together like accusing each other of being cheaters or sore losers.
A lot of adults think that toys and games are in the same category, but they’re really not. A toy is something you can play with whenever you want to. With a game, you can only play if someone else also wants to play. And if you’re really good at the game, good luck finding someone who wants to play with you at all.
But that’s why parents get their kids games – to help them bond as a family. Because there’s nothing like a board game to bring a family together so they can all accuse each other of being either cheaters or sore losers.
“I don’t believe this! You’re cheating!”
“I’m not cheating! You’re a sore loser!”
“I’m only sore because you’re cheating!”
Parents also buy these games because they have fond memories of playing them as children, and they want their kids to have those memories as well. Of course, what most parents forget is that their memories aren’t quite as fond as they remember.
Take Hungry Hungry Hippos, for example. You might have fond memories of this game, but then, when you buy it for your kids, you realize that it’s basically ten minutes of helping your kids put the board together, followed by thirty seconds of loud, shrieking, chomping playtime, after which half the marbles are under the couch. And the only thing that the game really teaches your kids, in the long run, is how to survive at a kiddush.
And how about Candy Land? Most of us have fond memories of Candy Land, but then when our kids make us play it with them, we realize how mindless it is. It’s one of those games where you can actually get up and walk away and have a trained Labrador retriever play for you, and the results will be the same. In fact, sometimes this actually happens. You sit down to play with your kids, and then, one by one, they all wander off to do something else, until finally you realize that you’re sitting there by yourself, going, “Okay, I’m Chanie now… Good job, Chanie! Okay, I’m Shloimie now… Good job, Shloimie! Okay, it’s Mommy’s turn… Mommy’s winning! Okay, now Rover…” And the kids can’t even hear you, because they’re off playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.
And chances are you did this to your parents too. So where do these fond memories come from? Probably from the fact that, as a kid, you cannot get over the fact that the game is taking place in a land that is entirely governed by candy. Not only that, but it was probably invented by some guy who was so hopped up on candy that he didn’t know what to do with himself. He was like, “This is going to be awesome! There’s going to be a lollypop princess and a chocolate swamp monster and a really tall guy with legs you can eat!”
Apparently, the game is designed to teach kids that they can take candy from strangers, so long as the strangers are dressed as that candy. But what was with that guy at the bottom of the board? What was he giving out? Plums? Gingerbread cookies? Are we encouraging our kids to take cookies from an overweight green dog with a moustache?
But basically, Candy Land was one of a long string of children’s games wherein the object is to get from point A to point B via the most indirect route possible. Chutes and Ladders is the most extreme example of this. The board was crammed with literally a hundred squares, and the way to get to the end was to walk back and forth across the board, like you’re going through the velvet ropes at the bank. And that game was just full of morals. Do something good -- go up a ladder. Do something bad -- go down a slide. But I do think it’s interesting how the actions taken by the characters on the board are totally disproportionate to how far they have to go up or down. It was like, ride a bike with no hands and no helmet -- slide down four spaces. Take a cookie from the cookie jar, go down 63 spaces.
Another game that really has no appeal to adults is Bingo. Boy, was that a game of luck. You can play Bingo if you’re asleep. Although, if I understand correctly, it’s one of those games that comes back again when you’re much older. Also, it’s one of those games where, in order to win, you have to shout out the name of the game, sort of like in Uno and Yahtzee, to periodically remind those around you that the game is still going.
Also, some games don’t seem to have a purpose in the real world. Operation, for example. It’s like we’re teaching our kids that all a doctor does is take things out. Your heart doesn’t work? Take it out. Don’t bother replacing it with one that works. You’ll be okay, so long as the doctor doesn’t nick you with his tweezers.
Once in a while, though, you come across a game that your kids can actually beat you at, skill-wise. For example, my kids almost always beat me at Memory. This is because their minds are a blank slate, and pretty much the most important thing they have to remember is where they saw the other card. Meanwhile I have bills, and a mortgage, and carpools, and ten million passwords, and old songs that I heard as a kid, plus I’m trying to keep the baby from eating the cards, so the last thing on my mind is where the other card is. In fact, a real game of luck is when my wife and I try to play Memory after the kids go to bed. That game can go on for hours.
But we don’t have hours. We’re out of space here, thank God. And now that Chanukah is coming to a close it’s time to start playing with all of our new toys. So let the games begin!