On the night of Dec. 1, 1929, a toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe was driving from Atlanta to Jacksonville after yet another disappointing and discouraging sales trip. The collapse of the stock market just a month before had made stores and individuals reluctant to spend their money on anything but necessities, and Lowe looked upon the dismal prospects for his newly formed game company with a good deal of trepidation.
It was a black night, indeed, yet in the distance he saw a cluster of bright lights where no town should be, and he decided to investigate. He discovered a small-town carnival at which all the booths were closed but one. Here a noisy crowd was so intense in their play that they refused to let the pitchman close up his tent for the night. Lowe found that the game these people were so addicted to was a variation of the old game of Lotto, one the pitchman had devised using numbered cards on which beans were placed as markers. The game, naturally enough, was called "Beano."When Lowe started running test games in his home to see whether Beano could be marketed commercially, one winner became so tongue-tied with excitement when her last number was called that, instead of yelling "Beano," she stammered "B-B-B-BINGO!" and a new word was born along with one of the most popular games in history.
The appeal of Bingo, I think, is due in large part to the fact that no one feels bad about losing; after all, the game is governed, not by skill, but by pure chance. And in this we can find a good lesson for parents and teachers who want to put the fun of games into their family or classroom activities.
The "fun" of games isn't much fun at all for children who must compete against vastly superior opponents, whether those competitors are adult parents or just more skillful and able children than themselves. Losing time after time only confirms their belief in their own inadequacy and comparative incompetence. (The continually frustrating experiences of children from the slow-readers' group as they progress through school are summed up in the saying "Once a Bluebird, always a Bluebird.") Games that promote learning should, indeed must, require a certain amount of knowledge and skill, but when that is the sole requisite for victory, the game becomes nothing more than a thinly disguised snap quiz. "Handicapping" a game by giving advantages to weaker players (such as letting certain players take two consecutive turns, for example) will make the play more sporting and will replace some of the frustration with occasional victory. But parents must be careful here not to reinforce a struggling child's belief that competing in the world is possible only when he or she is given a special advantage.
I like to bring chance into play whenever possible, both in the living room and in the classroom. I've seen Bingo being creatively used by an elementary teacher who made game cards with numbers that answered the equations she would draw from a hat. "N, six times four," she would call out, and her students would mark N24 if - by chance alone - that number appeared on their card. New and surprising winners emerged each time, and accomplishment replaced frustration even among the "bluebirds" in the room.
So, be flexible in adapting and creating rules to meet your own family's particular strengths and weaknesses, and try using "wild cards," dice and spinners to balance knowledge or skill with the painless wonders of blind luck.