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World Domination Shock – Gamers Find Another Way

May 7, 2015
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The Brothers Royston c1964

I learn from the London Times that a growing number of our gilded youth are abandoning PlayStations and other gaming devices. Apparently they are taking up the games that their parents and grandparents used to play – and still play.

Good for them. I always thought that there was something slightly onanistic about sitting glued to a screen for hours on end, zapping the bad guys or raiding tombs. I admit that I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to “gaming”. Space Invaders in the pub in the late Seventies was about as far as I ever got. There are only so many aliens you can destroy before it starts getting a tad boring. I did have a brief flirt with Flight Simulator, but that was before the days when such pursuits could get you arrested as a suspected terrorist.

I do know that gaming can become addictive. For a couple of years I worked with some very bright young people in the Middle East whose grades started to fall over a cliff when hours at the joystick turned to uninterrupted days and nights.

Grown-ups do this too, especially in Las Vegas, where the hotels deliberately make it impossible to tell night from day, and people sit at the slots or the tables in marathon stints that would attract the attention of the health and safety police if this was what they did for a living.

So welcome to my world, young fogies. From the age of eight I was honing my competitive instincts with the most popular board games of the time: Risk, in which you fought for world domination; Monopoly – a perfect introduction to capitalism for an eight-year-old in short trousers. Then there was L’Attaque, in which you took to the board with an army of combatants that looked as though they had been plucked out of World War 2. Colonels with bristling moustaches, generals, sappers and so forth.

Of course there were also the perennials: draughts, chess, scrabble, backgammon and various card games including bridge, piquet and bezique (Winston Churchill’s favourite). I never really got into the more cerebral games favoured by the school intelligentsia – in other words those who were destined for Oxbridge – like Go and Mah Jong. Too cool for my taste. There was more than enough power and domination to be had from the other stuff. Ask someone if they played Mah Jong, and an odd look might appear on the would-be opponent’s face, as if you’d developed acne in an unusual location, or half of your dinner was adorning your school tie. But everybody played the mainstream games, and did so with the evil intent that so easily grows in the fetid micro-climate of a boys-only boarding school.

School was not the only place for games. At home on holidays, I would play endless bouts with my older brother, who was far brighter and more competitive than me. He took delight in crushing me at whatever we played. On the odd occasion when I won, he would get quite miffed. It was not unknown for him to throw the board in the air and scatter the pieces around the room. But I never resented his pre-emptive termination of hostilities, because, after all, that was what big brothers did. It was the prerogative of seniority. And anyway, an hour or so later we would be back in the fray. The picture at the top of this post is of the two of us in the late Sixties battling away by the swimming pool. Happy days.

One of the joys of playing board games, or bored games as some would have it, was that you could see your opponent, a pleasure that most gamers don’t experience. The sight of your victim losing his shirt in Monopoly, as Mayfair and Park Lane fall into your grasping hands (much as modern hotels end up in the portfolios of the Qataris) was a joy indeed. Especially if the loser happened to be your sister or younger brother, whose control over their emotions might not match the rapidly-developing stiff upper lip you had developed on the playing fields and in the dormitories of an English prep school. Snide text messages between online opponents are pretty tame compared with spectacular family meltdowns over one faction ganging up on another in Risk, or bitter accusations of cheating at scrabble. And there’s nothing like looking into the whites of the other person’s eyes as their defence crumbles at chess. Not quite as visceral as Game of Thrones perhaps, but I’ll bet George RR Martin, who wrote the books, is a dab hand with the chequered board.

Another attraction of board games is that they stimulate the imagination in a way the electronic equivalents don’t. Stacking armies of little red counters on Irkutsk and Kamchatka is not the equivalent of immersing yourself in hyper-realistic street fighting. Modern games are designed to leave nothing to the imagination. Are they creating a generation of kids who are incapable of creating their own fantasies because all their dreams are served ready-made on an electronic plate?

The time may be fast approaching when more gamers may have to seek alternatives to Call of Duty Black Ops 2. The internet is currently soaking up as much as 16% of Britain’s power capacity, and some experts predict that if usage continues to grow at the present rate we can expect rationing of bandwidth in the future. What better preparation for that moment than for our screen-sated youth to learn to play real games, in which protagonists scratch each other’s eyes out across a real table? Better than having to invent a new psychological condition: Internet Deprivation Syndrome, for the treatment of which vast funding from our cash-strapped National Health Service will no doubt be available.

Who knows, perhaps a few of our stroppy teenagers might even resort to humouring their elders and betters with the odd joust on the Monopoly board. The young may be smart and tech savvy, but put them up against their battle-hardened capitalist grandparents, and they will soon learn to know their place in the real world.

From → Social, UK

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