Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Games and Word Play

I mentioned in my New Year's post that my mother's side of the family always plays games on Christmas Day...once everyone is hopped up on turkey, mashed potatoes and seven-layer salad.

Their favorite game is Guesstures, which is kind of like charades with a time limit. It moves quickly and is fun with large groups of people. It's hilarious watching people trying to act out words or concepts while everyone on their team is shouting out random guesses. It's a lot of fun.

Another game we played at my aunt's house was Buzzword. It consisted of trying to identify particular phrases or sayings that used a particular word. You would receive clues about the phrase which explained the meaning of the phrase, but in a very different, often unnatural way.

One of the games that we got for Christmas was Catchphrase, which is a lot like Password. You can use any words you want to explain what the catchphrase is without actually using any part of it.

So, other than listing a bunch of games that we have played, where am I going with this?

Well, I began to wonder about games throughout history and what made something an entertaining game. Most of the ancient games I know of are strategy based games like chess, checkers, or mancala. There are games which rely on strategy combined with trickery/bluffing, like certain card games..Poker, for example.

While those games are still very popular, I wondered at how different modern games are from those games. So many of the games that we play and know are directly related to language and words, or communicating concepts, or associating what seem like disparate concepts with one another as in the game Tri-Bond, in which you have to discern what the common theme running between three words/ideas is.

It's all very language-based fun.

You don't actually prove yourself in "battle" as much as you show your superior communication skills.

It reflects some sort of a shift in our human priorities.

While we still have sports games, and strategy games, language-based games seem to have commanded a large market share of what we think is fun. And considering that "fun"can usually be a dress rehearsal for real life, it points to an emphasis on the importance of effective communicators, and the admiration we have for someone who is really good at using and mastering communication.

Those are my random thoughts. If anyone knows of ancient language and communication games, leave a comment. I'd like to know if I have grasped something real or am just making stuff up! ;-)


james said...


terri said...

hmm...would riddles qualify as a game? Maybe according to the article you linked to.

Is a riddle a type of puzzle game, or a language game? I guess it could be both using plays on words.

Digging around a little bit more, I can't seem to find any reference to any word games that don't originate in the last couple of centuries.

That still strikes me as rather strange.

Maybe word games are useless until the majority of the population is literate?

But then why not language/communication games which don't rely on reading and writing....like charades, or puns being incorporated into an organized "game".

very interesting.