Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go!
Playing a game is fundamental to human nature and is part of each and every culture. A number of familiar games have their roots in antiquity: Roman temple builders scratched the game plan of Nine Men’s Morris in stone slabs; Indian rulers played Pachisi, the forerunner of Ludo, with live figures; and ball games or those involving catching and hiding have been played on all continents at all times.
Yet games are also a reflection of the culture of a society, they reveal something about life in a country. Playing a game needs time. The societal and social changes in the 20th century initially gave people in Europe more free time, which they also spent on playing games. Some of the classical board and social games date back to this period: Halma (end of the 19th century), Ludo, Monopoly (launched in the North American market in 1904, became popular during the Depression), Scrabble (1931).
Germany in the 21st century has no time for play and the many options for leisure activities compete with each other: media consumption in all its facets, sport and music only at specific times, to name but a few, take away time for free play, primarily from children.
Who plays with whom and who plays whatUntil 20 years ago, the games played in a family with children above kindergarten-age were primarily tile-based games like Memory, board games like Ludo, or card games like Uno. Chess (a virtue thought worth striving for by knights back in the Middle Ages), Taboo, and the card games Doppelkopf or Mau Mau subsequently became popular. Today, however, in addition to these games, parents and children also occasionally play online role playing games.
When playing with each other, younger children essentially play without guidelines or instructions. Role play helps them practice individual and social skills, it imparts values and attitudes and prepares them for life. Likewise, school children play traditional games, are robbers and cops, or judge each other by the gaming consoles. Young boys spend more time playing outdoors and engage more in sporting activities than girls who tend to pursue creative activities. Consequently, sport-related games, particularly computer games, are at the forefront among adolescents. Adults primarily play board and card games, but are increasingly playing computer and online games as well.
The Game of the YearSince 1975, an award has been given for the Game of the Year in Germany, which can be a board game or a card game. Since 2001, there has been a separate award for a Children’s Game of the Year. The games come marked with a checker peg (red for adults, blue for children). Well-known winners have been ‘The Settlers of Catan’ (board game,1995), ‘Carcassonne’ (tile-based board game, 2001) or ‘Hanabi’ (card game, 2013).
Outdoor gamesWhile children almost always played outside in the past, this is no longer a given, particularly for city children. There are few playgrounds that are easily and safely accessible. But games can be played even on the pavement in front of the house or in the school yard:
- Sack race: Each child gets into a sack and races against the others in hopping over a given distance.
- Double Dutch: Two children tie a knotted rope around their legs; the other children jump over it in a particular sequence. Ankle high, then shin-high, etc.
- Tag, e.g. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? One child is Mr Wolf while the other children stand at a certain distance and call out: ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’ Mr Wolf can say, for example, ‘5 o’clock’. The group then takes five steps and asks the question again. Mr Wolf may then call ‘Dinner time!’, turn around, and try to catch the other players. If Mr Wolf is successful, the player caught is the next Mr Wolf.