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BEACON Senior News

The board games that shaped my life

Nov 22, 2021 02:51PM ● By Sam Beeson
Zoomed in portion of Monopoly board features silver car token, two dice with two and one up, a stack of Monopoly money with tens on top, and a Monopoly hotel

Everyone has opinions on what made them the way they are. Family and friends are some of the main reasons, of course, as well as community, religious beliefs, location and so on.

But for me, there’s another important thing that turned me into who I am (I believe, for the better): board games.

Christmas or birthday shopping for me was always easy. Just find him a board game, I imagine my folks would say. The problem was, no one else in my family played them. So every time I received a game as a gift, I was stuck waiting for a friend to come over so we could play it.

Sometimes, that wasn’t so easy. Not all of my friends were “gamers” (to borrow a term the young folk say today). Unless my shiny new game was going to sit on a shelf collecting dust, I had to come up with another plan.

So, I played the game against myself. I chose one token to be “me” and dubbed the other token “the other guy.” Virtually no game was impossible to play that way. And in playing those games, I learned valuable life lessons.

Monopoly taught me the value of money. It taught me to save some of it in order to make it around the board to payday. It taught me about using money to make more money. It even taught me about property taxes (note: when you land on the INCOME TAX square, always choose the 10 percent, instead of the $200. Unless you have hotels around the board, it’ll be cheaper that way). Likewise, in Monopoly jail was no fun and mainly consisted of sitting around being bored, which I understand is a significant problem in the prison system today.

Monopoly also taught me the art of negotiation and bartering. Making another player go bankrupt, though the ultimate purpose of the game, was not necessarily the fun part. Being on the losing end my fair share of times taught me the “big guy” is not necessarily looking out for you. Frequently, you have to look out for yourself.

Though I was never more than a casual player, chess taught me that sometimes there’s no clear winner. As you can guess, playing chess by yourself leads to a fair number of stalemates. After a while, I learned to play FOR the stalemate.

Outsmarting myself was a hollow victory. But using my best strategy to play for a draw against “the other guy” using “his” best strategy, I considered a win.

I don’t play chess much anymore these days. Instead, the chessboard today is often work or family relations. Chess taught me how to deal with difficulties and survive “no-win” scenarios, and that often a stalemate is a win.

Finally, The Game of Life was another favorite. Out of all the games I played, this one seemed to offer the most learning. A player drove a little car around the board that represented one’s life passing by and significant moments in it. For example, going to college usually meant better pay though, it slowed your start to the game and put you in debt. Getting married and having children was another major point. Buying insurance, which you may or may not need during the rest of the game, taught me the importance of planning for “what if.” 

Ultimately, you either won by retiring at the “Millionaire Estates,” or lost and went to “The Poor Farm”—significantly contrasting outcomes, especially as a child.

I remember wondering many times if my parents were headed to “The Poor Farm” because it sure didn’t look like we were anything close to “Tycoons.” (I understand that in modern versions of the game, such stark contrasting outcomes are no longer used, with the loser settling for retirement at the better-sounding “Country Acres.”)

I credit these games—and so many more—with significantly helping to shape me into the person I’ve become. But the most valuable lesson, by far, was learning to play both sides fairly. “Me” and “The Other Guy” had equal chances of winning. This gave me a gift for looking at both sides of an issue. 

To many, I’m “the negotiator,” the level-headed one who rarely makes rash or impulsive decisions. I’m slow to anger and quick to forgive. When confronted by a problem, I try to fairly see and represent both sides. I’ve made a career in customer service, frequently dealing with upset or disgruntled people. More often than not, I believe I’ve represented the interests of the customer and company fairly and treated both with the respect they deserved.

In the end, my friends and family have shaped me through life, but I must also thank the Parker Brothers, the long-forgotten inventors of chess, and Milton Bradley.

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