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Game night: cheap way to keep interactions with children going

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Ron and Julie Dayes and children Jessica and Abraham play games at their home in Midvale Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MIDVALE — The kitchen table is a big, character-filled old rectangular slab of wood that once graced a corporate conference room. Around it, Julie Daye gathers her family at the end of a busy week when activities had scattered them and kept them apart.

She looks at her husband, Ron; their youngest, Abraham, who's 15; and Jessica, who is leaving in October for a mission for the LDS Church, just like her brother Kristofer, who right now is in Canada.

"What shall we play?" she asks.

Playing games together is one of the ways the Dayes show each other love.

Tom Vasel has no trouble explaining how families benefit from playing games together. He grew up playing games with his four brothers and sisters and now has six children of his own with whom he continues a tradition he thinks is especially important at this point in history.

"We live in a changing generation where people are doing a huge amount of interaction that is not face-to-face, using Twitter, Facebook, texting. With games, you have to be face-to-face with people," he says.

But were he not convinced the world needs the up-close interaction, he'd still play. He's an involved dad and it's an activity his family enjoys.

"Though I'm a fan of video games and think they're fun, they don't promote interaction — even the most interactive ones. You're still facing a screen, doing what the screen tells you to do," says the Homestead, Fla., man, a math teacher and youth pastor at South Dade Baptist Church, who also does podcast/videocast for The Dice Tower to review board games. It's a point of pride that he reviews pretty much each one that comes out.

"With board games," he says, "you're communicating with one another. The only way to play is together."

Vasel says parents sometimes expect kids to oppose playing games. They like playing. Games have a tactile feel you don't get with a video game or iPad. There's something about picking up a piece and moving it that works.

He rattles off what can be learned from games, speaking so fast it's hard to keep up.

They teach negotiations, he says, and cooperation, and teaming up against other people, and realizing a bad bargain when you see it. Playing, if you play different games and not just the same one over and over, increases trading skills and builds dexterity. Board games can teach kids to count, to read a bluff, to negotiate with other people, to realize a bad deal or make the best of multiple choices, to think logically or spatially or simply how to outwit somebody.

He pauses for a breath, then adds, "They're fun."

Andrew J. Low, owner of Family Games Treasurehouse, a website that offers free instructions for hundreds of games across genres, compiled a list of the benefits he sees in regular family game nights.

Besides noting some wonderful family interactions, he says that playing games together helps build character. "Learning how to lose graciously is just as important as winning gracefully."

Others, from psychologists to teachers, note that game night is cheap, cheerful and a great way to keep conversations and interactions going as children move through the various stages and challenges of growing up.

Board games sales reportedly approached $1 billion in America a couple of years ago, bolstered some by the failing economy. CNN Money reported mid-recession that board games had spent a decade in the shadow of video games and sales had declined steadily since the '80s.

"But with the onset of the recession, as video games have suffered from the dip in consumer spending, their older, less-costly cousins — Clue, Candy Land, and the like — have benefited," wrote Fortune contributor Kim Thai.

That's one reason specialty board game shops have cropped up all over the country.

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