Game On, Part I: Memories

Nintendo NES

Growing up, I logged many hours playing my Nintendo NES. Some of my favorite games were Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and especially 3; The Legend of Zelda, Bubble Bobble, and Tetris. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt when I beat a game for the first time or when my friends and I passed a new level together during a sleepover. My parents probably thought that playing Nintendo was a huge waste of time but as we heard in her TED Talk, Jane McGonigal would not agree.

Games are not only good for you, McGonigal argues, they also promote the things that many people value in life: sharing in the joy of play, staying connected to loved ones, promoting positive feelings and happiness, and expressing our true selves. I love games for so many other reasons too: the thrill of competition, the sense of community, the chance to learn new things and to improve over time, the challenge of finding creative solutions, and the sense of accomplishment.

I like all types of games: computer, video, board, dice, card, party – it doesn’t matter. I even like games that seem like a waste of time. For me, sometimes I need time to process things. For example, if I’m working on a design project, a lesson plan, a grant application, or a chapter of my novel often I need some time to let my mind wander and to think about my next steps. I think procrastination is an important part of the creative process. Not to mention the many games that are geared to bringing out your creativity but I could write a whole book on that topic (hey – maybe I will). We always had games around at Starting Artists, Inc., whether it was playing pattern recognition, improv, card, or story-telling games, playing together was an important part of my classroom, and still is!

Anniversary Board Game

I have been thinking about games lately because of the incredible gift that Paul made me for our 3rd wedding anniversary. He created a game all about our time here in Ecuador, designing not just the game play but the board and cards, too (see above). The game board is a map of Ecuador and there are special spaces where a player must take a card from the deck. The cards describe different memories from our experience in Peace Corps and instruct the player if they need to move forward or backward on their path. Once a player rolls the dice and lands in a special city, that player has to relate a story about that city to win a Key Location Card. Of course I cried when Paul gave me the gift (we exchanged gifts a day early because we just couldn’t wait) and then we proceeded to play the game twice. We’re thinking of adding new game pieces and we’re even brainstorming a new game project we can work on together. More details as it develops.


PerudoA new game we just learned how to play is called Perudo. Paul and I were playing one of our favorite games, Bananagrams (in Spanish), at a hostel in Mindo when two fellow backpackers sat down and started playing Perudo at the other end of our table. We struck up a conversation and ended up teaching each other how to play our respective games. Perudo is a dice game but more than that it is a game about probability and reading people. I won’t go into the specifics but I will say that it is a blast and if you can’t find the actual game make it by providing a cup and 6 dice to each player. That’s what we did at a hostal in Quito with some Peace Corps pals. We had already finished a few rounds when we noticed the game in its box on a shelf in the hostal’s common area. We opened it up and played with the real game pieces for the rest of the night. It was meant to be!



For the holidays, my in-laws gifted me Photo-opoly, a version of Monopoly that you can customize by adding your own photos and naming the properties . We used the game to teach the Centro de Arte y Diseño Photography and Graphic Design classes how to hone their photo and design skills. Students used original photographs of Palmar for the properties and since the game was in English, graphic design students designed their own Chance and Community Chest cards in Spanish. Palmar-polio is now one of the most popular games we play at the Centro de Arte y Diseño and is an excellent reward towards the end of a class or is good for teaching math and strategy skills to the younger kids.



Settlers of Catan

Paul and I have made many happy memories around a Settlers of Catan board and a few unhappy ones, too (don’t think I’ve forgotten how you stole my longest road!). If you haven’t played this one, you really should check it out. We bought our first Settlers at the awesome game store in Cambridge The Games People Play. You can also play online for free or purchase the app. Watch out – it’s addictive!

Playing Catan at Home

Playing Catan in Vermont


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