There was a sports coach who once said, very forcefully and with staggered speech for emphasis, “You play…to win…the game!”
I’m glad professional athletes think that way. I’m glad that my Hoos think that way, especially as we approach March Madness. But I’m thinking another way these days. I want to play to have fun! Even at my ripe old age, I want to play. And I hope I don’t make a horse’s rear end out of myself – win or lose.
Board games, card games, word games, lawn games – I’m open to most types of games. Last Father’s Day, my son asked me what I wanted to do. I chose a recently opened “board game café” near our home. We spent the afternoon learning a new board game, sitting on the café’s shaded deck, eating their fare and relaxing. It wasn’t about the competition, but the joy of learning and playing and stretching our minds. Simply being together in a non-stressful, playful environment was the right tonic for my mind that day.
I have been competitive – from kickball, to pick-up tackle football, to swim meets, to ultimate frisbee. I competed and won in spelling bees and “sword drills.” But one of the most competitive games I’ve ever been involved with was Charades. Two different groups at two different phases of my adult life – and it was “downright cutthroat” both times.
Both events were “Team Charades:” two teams competed to both provide hard things to describe to the other side, and then to describe the words on the small slip of paper. At my FCA beach retreats during college, we were SO competitive, we had to set rules to keep the game fun for all. To make sure the clues stayed in the “guessable and describable universe,” at least half of the team that was contributing to the nouns to be pantomimed had to have heard of the concept before. Someone would throw out a realm of philosophy like “Innatism” (don’t ask me…) and if half the team had not heard of Innatism before, then the team could not submit the idea for the other team to describe.
This kept us from frustrating ourselves too much; we could compete, and we could all have fun participating.
One of my dearest friends at the time pulled a slip of paper from the Charades hat, and her jaw dropped. She had heard of these characters in a C.S. Lewis science-fiction novel before, but she had no idea how to get that word to come out of her team’s mouths. She had a five-minute time limit, so she started with the best ideas she could come up with.
Sometimes Charades tools like “first syllable” and “sounds like” help, but in this case, we watched as she scratched her head, and began to try to wave her arms around to describe the word. She finally got us to say, “sounds like Phil Keaggy” (a Christian guitarist in the 70’s and 80s).
What sounds like “Phil Keaggy?” Her time elapsed, and her hands went up the air as she shouted, “Pfifltriggi!” Both teams erupted in laughter, with some groans, and with a strong sense of compassion for what she had just gone through.
It’s one of my most precious memories – not because I was winning – I don’t remember who won that day. But 50 of us in one large den, challenging each other, laughing with each other, and even respecting each other – that meant so much to me.
The latest “bubble of gamified joy” was last weekend with my grandchildren and my siblings around the table playing what might be every American child’s first card game: Go Fish. What we were doing, however – I’d have to call it “Go Fish Extra.”
My brother has always been good with babies, toddlers, and younger children. We are both highly skilled in being silly – and that worked with this crew.
Instead of simply asking, “Do you have any Jacks?” he would put his hand to his ear as though he was on the phone – and ask for the card in a silly voice. My crowns – as I’ve called my grandchildren in a previous post, ages 10, 7, and 4 – lit up like Christmas. They had the best time using their silly voices and “making phone calls” to us adults and to each other. It spiced up Go Fish and made a memory that will last us all a long time.
So much of my autistic journey is about “regulation.” Just like the Mini must be manually shifted in the right gear for speed and performance, I need to shift into “play” gear every once and a while to stay emotionally regulated. We are not supposed to play in the street – even though I did play a lot of kickball in our streets growing up. I’ll keep shiftin’ to find the right lane to play in. Let the games begin!