Why It Is Important to Play Games

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When we are at our camp in the Adirondacks, we don't have a TV, video games, or even a stereo to entertain us. I find we do talk more as a family, and we sit quietly on the deck and listen to the best music ever produced: the sounds of nature. Most evenings, though, we find ourselves turning to our extensive collection of board games. Yes, playing games is fun -- but they also are good for all of us. For us old folks, games keep our minds sharp. They challenge our memory and our ability to concentrate and strategize. For kids, there are so many social skills that are promoted through game playing. I recommend board games, because unlike video games, you face your opponents -- which teaches you more about how to read body language. I also think you talk more when you face a person.

importance of playing games

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Reading Social Cues:This is a extremely important skill to develop when playing games that entail bluffing, like poker. In these games you learn to watch the tiniest twitch by your opponent, in hopes that you will figure out their "tell" and know when they are lying. Tell me being able to detect lying is not an important life skill!

Following Directions: You have to listen and pay attention to the structure and rules of the game in order to participate. Being able to follow directions is important for completing school work, as well as any kind of application you will ever have to fill out.

Sportsmanship: Going along with following directions is developing an ability to play by the rules, and to be fair and flexible when the game doesn't move in the direction you want. You learn that being a "good sport" involves giving people the benefit of the doubt, being generous and kind, and accepting losing without holding a grudge.

Learning from Failure: I think learning to accept losing is especially important for kids who are growing up in a "trophy for everyone," overpraising society. When you submit yourself to a game, you have to accept that you will win occasionally, but a lot of the times you will lose. Kids need to realize that losing does not mean total failure. If you want to get better at the game, you learn from your mistakes. You pick up your pieces and you play the game again until you succeed; this is an old-fashioned skill called resilience. 

Developing Patience: You have to wait to take your turn and not interrupt another player while he is making his move. You have to wait for others to finish their play, which sometimes can seem like an eternity when you have a really good move you want to make. You also need to learn to wait for the best time to play a move. You learn timing in strategic games, which is so important in life if you want to optimize your opportunities for success.

Strategic Thinking: Kids and many adults live very impulsively. Some games, like chess and Risk, require a person to think several moves ahead. Long-term thinking skills, planning are required to really master these games.

Negotiation Skills: Some of the really great new board games, like Settlers of Catan and Cargo Noir, along with classic games like Monopoly, require players to make deals with other players in order to get the resources they need to win the game. These games are fantastic little micro worlds, in which one gets the chance to see the pros and cons of sharing and trading personal resources.

Being Oppositional Without Being Enemies: I think this skill is probably one of the most needed today, because we live in such a polarized time socially and politically. In a game, your best friend can play the role of your opponent. You try to defeat this dearly loved person -- but is it personal? No. Doing this type of role playing helps us to remember that we all have different opinions and positions on many issues, but we are all just playing our role, our part in the larger game.

We don't have to hate people because their viewpoint differs from ours; that's what tolerance is about. To be tolerant does not mean to like; it means to put up with an opinion that is different from our own. If you can put up with your best friend destroying your empire in a greedy pursuit of your wealth, maybe you can put up with your next door neighbor's viewpoints -- even if they are very different from your own -- because he is basically a nice person who just happens to be playing the game a little differently than you.

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