Group Play

Group Play
The Game Room

Greg Tito | 23 Sep 2008 12:03
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Gaming is all about the space in which you play.

It starts when you're a kid, I suppose. Most of us had someplace that became a depository for all the colorful plastic objects that amused us with beeps, rings and zooms. When our play dates came over, there was a place for us chitlins to play - if not together, then at least in proximity - while our parents drank heavily.

Having a space devoted to playtime helps kids build social skills. Recess fulfills the same need. As a kid, I learned more when we were playing than I did in the classroom, despite the draconic supervision of playground aides from the Isle of Lesbos who hated my made-up games.

As I approached middle school, however, things changed. Instead of bearing the yoke of constant adult supervision, my friends and I began actively avoiding it. That meant congregating at a friend's house that had a dedicated game space away from the prying eyes of Bob and Rita Old Person. The bottom floor of their home was all games. Here, the Nintendo Famicom flourished in its natural habitat. We incessantly played games like Bad Dudes, Super Mario 2 (the weirdest sequel ever made), and M.U.L.E. Risk and Axis and Allies - the offline versions - lived on the shelf; we even played them once in a while when I could convince my crew to set up the pieces.

The ping pong table set up in the other room got heavy usage from a homebrew game we called Full-Contact Ping Pong. The basic point was to nail the other player with the ball. You may not realize it, but that small white ball can really sting if you hit it hard enough. That's why hitting the head or the crotch warranted a "pummel" - that is, a free shot against your backside. You see, we had rules. F.C.P.P. was even part of a larger series of games which began with Full Contact Croquet. The rules for that one were a little more relaxed. I think it involved one ball, with all the players muscling their way in to hit it through the wickets.

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Our propensity for physical violence notwithstanding, having a space devoted to games and play was instrumental in forming friendships that have lasted decades. We would never have been such creative game designers had we sat in the living room watching 90210 every afternoon. For me and my friends, gaming was a very social activity. Competition, sometimes friendly and sometimes not so much, fueled our contests. Even playing single-player videogames together became contentious when you had to hand over the controller to the next guy whenever Mario got Goomba'd. We were there to spend time with each other, but it was always in the context of gaming.

As we left middle school for high school, my friends' focus drifted to the female species. We still played games, but there were less marathon F.C.P.P. sessions when girls were around - 100 percent less, to be more accurate. Not that I was vexed by the fairer sex's intrusion on our lives; I guess there are some things better than gaming.

I didn't stop playing games, but it became a more private activity. My tastes tended towards the old standbys of strategy and roleplaying games anyway, and before the interweb took off there was virtually no way to play Ultima or TIE Fighter with other people. But the loss of game room hurt me in ways I didn't realize until much later.

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