By far, most of my gaming experience has been with family members, throughout my life. Certainly, I have played games with friends, co-workers, and strangers, but the majority of the time I have spent gaming has been with family.
The first game I can recall playing was Crazy Eights, which my parents taught me to play with a regular deck of cards when I was about 4 or 5 years old. That is also the only game I can recall playing with my parents, until after I was married, and I only remember playing it occasionally with them for a couple of years. My dad enjoyed playing Canasta in those days and joined a neighborhood group that played on a regular (weekly? monthly?) basis. I do not believe my mother cared much for playing games.
When I was about 7 years old, I was visiting, with my mother, with an aunt and uncle. They had two children who were several years older than me, but they were not at home at that time. Another aunt and her son, my cousin, who was two years younger than me, were also visiting there. My younger cousin and I noticed some games our aunt and uncle had, and we asked whether we could play with one of them. They got out Uncle Wiggly for us, and I embarked upon my first adventure with a boardgame. My cousin could not yet read the cards, but I was more than happy to do so for both of us. Because it was the first commercial boardgame I had ever seen, I was fascinated with it. What fun we had, teaching ourselves that game. I know that several times after that, when we both were visiting that aunt and uncle, we were allowed to play that game.
Not long after discovering Uncle Wiggly, my cousin and I were present when four of our older cousins were engaged in playing what appeared to be a much more interesting boardgame. It was Monopoly. We asked to join them, but were told we were too young to play with them. Of course, that just whetted my appetite to play it. Unfortunately, I had to wait until a neighborhood friend of mine showed me his family’s Monopoly game several years later, and he taught me how to play it.
I had three sets of aunts and uncles (my mother’s sisters) who loved to play games. I do not know why my mother seemed to be the only sister who did not enjoy games. The others always played games when we were at family gatherings. I had six cousins in those three families, two younger than me, and four older. There were a few games almost all of us enjoyed playing – croquet, horseshoes, and cards. There were two card games that were the mainstays of these gatherings – Pitch and Rook. I seldom played Rook, but Pitch became my life-long favorite card game. One of my uncles would play Pitch at the drop of a hat, and he was hard to beat. I learned a lot about that game from playing against him. He and another uncle would always split up and be partners with me and one of my cousins; sometimes, we played three-member teams, so six of us could play at the same time. They taught me many variations of Pitch, and I learned to like virtually all of them. I suspect that one reason I enjoyed learning Pitch was because my uncles were great to play with. They always played to win. They were tough competitors, but they always played fairly and had fun doing it. After a hand, they might explain what we had done wrong or could have done better, but they never blamed us for making a mistake – it was always a learning experience. It was always a positive experience, even in losing.
After my family moved away from the old hometown, I only played games with aunts, uncles, and cousins at family reunions or special holiday gatherings. I always looked forward to those opportunities. Since I had no siblings, and my parents were not interested in games, most of my gaming through high school was with friends, and even that was very limited.
Several years after Sue and I married, and my parents had retired and moved back to their hometown, they got more involved in playing games. I was quite surprised. Interestingly, my parents and the two uncles (and aunts) with whom I had played so much Pitch moved onto the same street, within a few houses of each other. They were all retired at that time, and they got together very frequently. Many of those visits involved playing one of two games – Yahtzee or Wa-Hoo (marbles, they called it – a form of Pachisi or Parcheesi). Here’s a photo of our Wa-Hoo board from those days. One of my uncles was so into game-playing that he made his own Wa-Hoo board, which they all played on. Whenever we visited my parents, we almost always played one or both of those games. That was the first time I realized that my dad actually enjoyed games very much. I don’t know whether he didn’t show so much interest earlier because he knew my mother did not enjoy it, or whether he felt he finally had the free time to play, after he retired. I believe he and I could have enjoyed many hours of games together, as I was growing up, but it just didn’t happen. Perhaps that realization contributed to my interest in playing games with our children frequently.
The uncle who was such a game-player even purchased an early electronic baseball game that connected to his TV, some time before we bought our Atari 2600 at home, for us and our kids. He was a major influence on my love of games. He managed a grain elevator, after many years of farming, and I’ve seen him work long hours at the elevator during wheat harvest, and then come home and be willing to play horseshoes or Pitch for a couple of more hours. I think his desire to play games was insatiable.
With three uncles, three aunts, and six cousins who loved to play games, it was natural that I would grow up to be a game-player. It was a most enjoyable way to grow up.
--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; February 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming