We have a regular game night at our place. Bit of ‘Snakes and Ladders’, some ‘Uno’, some ‘Operation’ for my youngest.
Two things I can tell you about Game Night. First up, ‘fast game is a good game’ does not apply. These simple games have lots going on for junior players to follow. These nights roll s-l-o-o-o-w. Also, my four year-old would make a particularly horrific and giggly surgeon.
My oldest boy lately got really into Scrabble. I’m thrilled because I freakin’ love Scrabble. He does well with the words he knows and I help him a lot when he can’t see a good move because, of course, I play very gently. There are three reasons for me to take it easy: 1) I want him to know the fun of making and playing with words, 2) I want to encourage his interest in the game so he’ll play more with me, and 3) I’m not a psychopath. Some dudes have a ‘don’t hold back’ and ‘how else will they learn?’ approach to raising their kids, but Jesus, I just don’t see what my seven year-old gets out of me whupping him at Scrabble.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my father for the Leftie leaning world view he instilled in me. It was entirely unintentional and unconscious. Indeed, I’m quite sure he had no inkling he was doing it. But there’s certain behaviours an impressionable child can’t help but learn from.
Dad’s upbringing was proper working class – born and bred coastal boy who made good by joining the police and working the same job his whole life. Hard work, and hard play, typify his attitude to life. And though he undoubtedly possessed a strong Protestant work ethic and drive to keep plugging until you got somewhere, I got none of it.
Of Protestantism, it should be noted my dad was utterly areligious. Church never meant much to him: the only tangible thing it seemed to offer was the free child-minding that Sunday School enabled. I’m sure he thanked almighty God for the sleep-ins.
The character-shaping part for me was in being up close to his competitive streak. He was massively competitive in the old school Australian way and wore that loudly and proudly and in your face. I only came to recognise it later, when I saw him out-performing in sport, out-drinking men in the pub, lifting more, going longer, all of it. But looking back to when I was younger I can see that the competitive thing was fundamental. Even if you were a small child with no idea there was a competition on, it was on. All of this was for the most part fine. Not being particularly sporty or able to compete in arenas meaningful to him, I remained largely unaffected.
But then sometimes, if I was really unlucky, we’d play Monopoly.
It was the Monopoly board where my father’s alpha-male douch-baggery would find it’s perfect outlet. He was merciless. He would slowly but surely thrash us utterly and terribly, the full force of his zeal growing in space and volume as the game went on. He would gloat and tease us at how bad we were as we marched inexorably to our final defeat and his ultimate glory. It was a shitty, shitty experience every time it happened, and it built a deep loathing within me toward all competitive and sporting efforts, but most especially for everything the game of Monopoly represents.
Monopoly is a repulsive, ridiculous game. The whole pitch is that it perfectly mimics the Capitalist dystopia. What fun! You start the game happy and in need of nothing, then you’re compelled to endure hard work and demands on your time and energy and make a bunch of difficult decisions, your friends mercilessly shaft you and you finish broke and unhappy. Exactly like life in all its depressing, moribund tedium. Who in the tit would sit and play this as a fucking entertainment?
Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the early experience. It was shaping, no doubt. Knowing in my own small way what it was like to be crushed under the heel or the gleefully uncaring Capitalist overlord, my gravitation to the unfortunate and unprivileged seems, in hindsight, inevitable. A lesson to live by, I guess.
Last game night, running through some suggestions for future games, the boy mentioned Monopoly. Some of the other kids at school were playing it and he was keen to play.
I guess I’m going to have to tear him a new one. For his own sake, you understand.