Newsflash: Settlers of Catan Doesn’t Last Forever

Русский: Игра в "Settlers of Catan"

Forty-five minutes. That’s how long the Settlers of Catan box says it takes. Somehow I can’t seem to remember what a short time that is.

I kind of have a thing about board games. My sister and I got them every Christmas as kids, but rarely did we play them. We preferred games where we made up the rules, where our imagination set the only limits. And this was great: I remember fondly the entire days we spent on sagas in which Princess Clara (my Skipper doll) rescued entire civilizations of Littlest Pet Shop figurines from certain doom, armed only with her wits and her smart-mouthed flying pony. (I’m sure no one who knows me in real life will be surprised in the least to learn about this.)

The only downfall of such games with this: because there was no way to win or lose, I didn’t learn to do either one gracefully. And because I was such a natural perfectionist, I built up the importance of winning, or at least not losing badly, until it became life or death in my mind. Those few times we played Monopoly as a family (which really did seem to last forever – why is that game so long?) seemed to end with me overturning the board. I hated losing so much that I’d lose sight of absolutely everything else: friendships, family ties, proportion, dignity, and common sense.

I’m much better now. I mean, I’d better be, since board game parties are a popular way to hang out among my friends. Currently, I play Settlers several times a month, and I’ve never even been tempted to turn the board over (so far). But sometimes, I definitely slip back into bad habits. My adult version of this happens to be passive-aggressive comments delivered in that I’m-joking-or-am-I? tone of voice. Sometimes my frustration builds to the point where I’ll actually come out and say something outright: “Ugh, I can’t believe I even play this with you. I try to be nice and then you repay me by grinding my face in the dirt.”

I really don’t know why I act this way. It’s like I think the game is a map of my life, rather than something that’ll get packed up and tucked into my friend’s messenger bag, to be brought back the next time she comes over. The moments just seem so long that it seems to make total sense to blow off steam because I’m frustrated at myself for losing.

Maybe this seems like a small thing. In a way, it is. My friends let my remarks go by, because they’re much classier than I am, and they always offer to let me play again next time. My family has even long forgiven me for those horrible childhood games of Monopoly (at least I hope so). But as with so many things, it raises larger questions in my mind.

Why do I still somehow think it’s more important to win than to be kind? Why is it so hard for me to realize that, whether I win or lose, the game will soon be over and we’ll all forget about it? Why is it so hard for me to look at the faces of my friends instead of obsessively scrutinizing the board, to think about how blessed I am to be with them instead of counting my points and inwardly reciting the rules?

In the grand scheme of things, forty-five minutes is nothing. Even my life is just a breath. Everything will be over before I know it. Will I have spent my time obsessing over winning some kind of prize I can’t take with me, or will I be able to look past the fake rules and objectives and set my eyes on what really matters?

I guess I’ll work on the Catan game first. Then maybe I can work on remembering what really matters for the length of an entire movie. Wow, at this rate I hope I have enough time left to learn how to truly enjoy it…

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One thought on “Newsflash: Settlers of Catan Doesn’t Last Forever

  1. So, I did a bunch of game theory when I was less triggered, and what I came down to was an important link between gaming and morality. That is, games are safe spaces where we can explore moral choices that are inadvisable (or totally impossible) to perform in real life, due to ability, permission, or whatnot.

    To explain, I should explain my gaming persona. During a game, I generally make choices that blockade other people from achieving their objectives. When I lose a game, it’s because I’ve spent too much time delimiting my opponents’ objectives while not focusing enough on my own. This is a terrible way to live one’s life, and it would say horrible things about me as a human being…

    …that is, if I acted in real life the same way that I act in a game. The second a game’s over, I put all that aside. I never really remember who won any game at all, unless I have to keep statistics; even then, I don’t really care how well I’m doing. Games are explorations; they’re experiments; they’re expansions of our imagination. Tableflipping aside, games give us metaphorical frameworks whereupon we can better understand others’ perspectives, and that should make us better people.

    I feel like there’s a time and space for everything. The objective of a game is to explore safe space with friends with rules that make it easier to keep the space safe. The objective of life is to explore it with friends and practice acts that make it easier to keep our spaces safe, as well, but what constitutes safety in real life is different than in a game because of the arbitrary rules that games enforce. Most notably, though, just as the reason we play games isn’t the winning per se but the experience of playing the game, the reason we go through life isn’t to win, but to do what has been laid out before us.

    Basically, it’s all the same stuff you said, but with more, uh, game theory. 🙂

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