Before I had kids, I couldn’t really see the point in games. I understood that they were, in a lot of ways, the grown-up’s toy but I thought it all a bit silly, really. Grown men treating football like it was the end of the world reminded me of little kids playing ball in the backyard. It would be a long time before I’d realize that that was exactly the point. Grown women playing tennis could only be rationalized by saying they were exercising. I didn’t understand. Not really.

Even when I was young, a child, games didn’t really interest me because I wasn’t good at them. Don’t believe me? Once, when I was in around the 6th grade, our P.E. coach favored making us do laps around a beat up path. We had to run so many laps before we could stop. I nicknamed that path the Trail of Tears. Still don’t believe I wasn’t very good at sports? That same year, about once a week, we were required to play a game of softball. Every kid in the class. One day, it was my turn to bat. So I get up to the plate, swing and… hit a home run! Everyone starts yelling “run!” So I do. I run as hard as I can. I finally make it back to home and am so proud of myself—I hit a homerun! Then I realized everyone was laughing at me, even the coach. He comes up to me and says with a chuckle: “Going to take my bat home with you?” No one told me I was supposed to drop the bat before running around the bases.

That, dear friends, sums up my life experiences not only with sports but games in general. So I just avoided them and carried around a book and pen instead. When free time at P.E. came along, I was the kid parked beside the teacher, writing. As I grew older, I could not understand what adults saw in playing games. I’d heard all my life that games and sports built character and sportsmanship. But, as far as I could tell, that was only true if you were good at the game—or, at least, invited to play. Those who severely lacked adequate social and interpersonal skills were never invited to play and, when they played anyway, their total lack of skill only made them feel clumsy and inadequate. Games and sports, I decided, were a waste of time while intellect and books were worthwhile because they involved learning (and because I was good at that).

Then I had children.

My goal was to teach them, and to help them see how much I adored them. The thing is–I know children, and the way their little minds think. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of inspiring and teaching them, I had to play games, because it is through play that children learn the most. So I started coming up with, finding out about and out right making up games. We learned about different animals through Elephant in the Jungle; we learned math through Hopscotch. Slowly, and without realizing it, I began to see play and games in a new way–and not only for kids.

I began playing games like Words and Draw Something with friends over the computer—while simultaneously communicating and strengthening those friendships. Friendships I never expected blossomed while others were renewed. Even my sister and I played for awhile — but what meant more to me than who won was that it was a way for me to stay connected to my sister even through our different daily lives. In other words, games acted as a catalyst for improving my friendships with others. My life became richer as a result of games–both the ones I played with my children and the ones I played with other adults.

Similar things were having in the lives of my children. When they played games, be they imaginative, make-believe ones or organized, structured sports-type ones, they laughed together. They conspired together. They learned essential yet basic things like how to take turns and how to problem-solve cooperatively. But it was about more than learning. Play, and the games it involved, taught them to enjoy life. It gave them a respite from stress, a tool through which they could relax.

Relaxing is a big deal, a big enough deal in my life to warrant its own blog. I am good at pretending to be relaxed. I am good at pretending to be comfortable and confident. It is my mask. But beneath the mask lies a very tense, almost rigid, body in which lies a brain that almost never takes a break. I analyze analyzing. I carefully weigh every word that comes out of my mouth against possible reactions before I ever speak. I’m walking a tightrope, and so relaxing is extremely difficult. Games help distract me from worrying about whether or not everything I do and say is perfect. If I’m really comfortable with you, it helps boost confidence and encourages spontaneous smiles.

It does the same for my children. The more lively the game, the more energetic and genuinely happy they become. Whether they win or lose isn’t the point, as long as they have enjoyed the time spent with friends. You see, I think the point of games isn’t necessarily to create bonds but rather to strengthen ones that already exist. Games require time focused on others, and on a common goal. Games are fun not necessarily because they are particularly well-crafted or clever but because they allow us to interact in a relaxed and unhurried manner with friends. Monopoly isn’t tons of fun because it takes hours; it’s tons of fun because it gives us hours of memories spent teasing and laughing with those we love. Football is a strategic game but what makes it fun to play is working as a cohesive team with friends. If I know nothing about baseball but agree to sit with you through a televised three hour game, our bond is strengthened, because you know without my saying so that I watched the game not because I care about it but because I care about you.

I used to think games were pointless. But how much value does a life spent in seriousness really have? I might become the next Einstein or Barlow but if I haven’t taken the time to appreciate the lighter gifts of life, if I haven’t taken time to play, then my friends are probably limited and therefore my life is probably unfulfilled. I can obtain multiple degrees and grow leaps and bounds mentally but the only way I will grow emotionally and psychologically is to spend time with others. Games help me do that. Games help adults remember a simpler era, one in which the greatest concern was learning to do a wheelie and sheets still made great hideaways. Games help recapture and remember a little of the youth we once were, a little bit of the innocence that we sometimes forget once belonged to us.

I used to think too much emphasis was placed on sports in high school. Now, I’m glad it is. Because becoming a strong friend who knows the importance if play is just as important (if not more so) than any math lesson you’ll ever have. I used to uncomfortably turn away from anything that involved games. I was too busy. And now, as an adult, it is hard for me to connect personally with others. Now, as an adult, I have to consciously tell myself that I shouldn’t feel guilty for having fun. I used to feel guilty for having fun or playing because I knew people next door were hurting and it felt wrong to be happy when others were not. But life is supposed to be lived to the fullest, not merely tolled. Life is meant to be beautiful and full of love and joy, not just knowledge and achievements. Life is meant to be both tender and fun; real and make-believe; full of responsibility and “me” time outs; plans for the future and rich in the present.

Games matter.

And, sometimes, the best part is remembering when you ran all the way home carrying the bat. 🙂