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Washington Voices

I hate the game but love the player

Sat., Jan. 12, 2013

Some people love playing games. I’m not one of them. Whether I’m asked to play poker, pinochle, Bingo, Sorry, Uno, dominoes, Go Fish or any other game, I can think of a thousand things I’d rather do. Like read a book, piece a puzzle, take a hike, or stare into space.

In recent years I’ve embraced the fact that I don’t enjoy games and now decline most invitations to play. Still, that follows years of appeasing. More times than I’d care to count, I’ve gamely moved tokens, tossed dice, rearranged tiles and laid out cards with friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, I don’t reminisce about these occasions with the fondness expressed by true game lovers.

The only exception is my memory of playing with my game-smitten Grandma. Those childhood games were fun, I suspect, because she let me win.

Although I adored all the love and attention she showered on me, my warm recollections of Grandma aren’t about playing Rack-O, bingo and Phase 10. They’re about getting hugged so tight I couldn’t breathe, eating her delectable baked goods and convincing her to talk without her teeth.

Gaming evangelists assert that this form of leisure activity helps families bond while teaching good sportsmanship. For me, it did the opposite. I don’t have the interest to remember who already played an ace but I’m too competitive to like losing.

I’m also not very lucky. No amount of blowing and wishing is going to make me roll a double six. When someone else rolls that double six, gets the final card in their full house or somehow achieves whatever the aim of the game is, I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy.

No, when opponents take my money, send me back to Start or make me draw more cards, I feel more inclined to toss the dice at their head than on the table.

The odds of me playing a good game aren’t good. Games make me grumpy.

But of all the games I’ve ever played, the one I despise the most is Monopoly. I’d prefer to have my teeth professionally flossed than ever toss the dice on that board again. No passing go. No collecting $200. Just send me to jail.

As a child I didn’t mind Monopoly so much, but only if I got the dog or the iron as my game piece. Obviously, this was before I’d actually ironed anything and discovered that wrinkle-free clothing is best.

Back then, if my brother or friends set up a game of Monopoly, someone usually got called to do chores before the game reached that excruciating stage of bad sportsmanship combined with boredom, where one person owns all the good property, hotels and cash while everyone else pays them and hopes to land on free parking.

Why do people find this fun? It’s too much like real life.

One particular game of Monopoly stands out in my memory. We had a house full of relatives over the holidays and 13 of us sat down to play. After nine hours of buying, selling, trading and whining, I came in second.

Each player who dropped their cash and quit before me left the table disgruntled. The one who beat me gloated. It felt like a waste and I wanted my nine hours back.

Perhaps as penance for my poor sportsmanship, I have a son who loves Monopoly. I don’t remember who bought Isaac the game that elevates acquisition and ownership, but it wasn’t me.

As a dutiful mom, I played it with the family a couple times that first week, when the money was crisp and clean, the property deeds without wrinkles. I thought the novelty would wear off for him. I was wrong.

Instead of getting bored, the child who refused to sit still long enough for me to read him a chapter or two could suddenly sit at the table for hours while attempting to become a miniature slumlord. He wanted to play every day.

As much as I hated Monopoly, I loved Isaac. And of all of my children, he can be the most persuasive. As a child he could turn on the charm to get what he wanted. Professions of love, hugs, and soulful looks from under his long, dark eyelashes were like money in Monopoly. He knew how to play me.

After he coerced me into a few games of Monopoly, I knew I needed a new game plan. A simple “no” wasn’t enough.

Parker Brothers has released many different versions of Monopoly in numerous languages. They have an electronic banking version, a Star Wars version and a Disney princess version. Though it looks just like the Monopoly I played as a child, Isaac’s version is iron-free. That’s not the same as wrinkle-free.

What I needed was a solitaire version or one that could be played with just two children. So I made up an imaginary friend named Fred.

Fred is a nice fellow. He loves playing games. His favorite is Monopoly. Since I invented him about seven years ago, he’s played in my place countless times. If I could, I’d patent Fred as a Monopoly product and make a fortune.

Fred loses a lot. I think the only time he’s won was when he played Bob (another imaginary friend) while Isaac played banker. Fred is a good sport. He doesn’t throw tantrums or dice and he doesn’t gloat when he gets to buy Boardwalk.

I may hate Monopoly but I love Isaac. And it’s a win-win for everyone if Fred plays instead of me.

Contact correspondent Jill Barville by email at

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