the games (other) people play

THE suzi feay COLUMN
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Indy Lifestyle Online
PEOPLE THINK you're positively mardy if you don't throb with delight at the prospect of Christmas games. What could be merrier than the sight of the whole family gathered round the table for a spot of festive Ludo or Scrabble?

"How unsporting," the game-freaks sigh, when I refuse to pay Supertax for the third time and insist I'd rather spend the rest of the game in Jail anyway. "Don't take it so seriously," they say, adding smugly, "it's only a game." Which is rich coming from them, because everybody knows that people who like to play games are simply exercising naked power in a socially sanctioned way.

They like to play games because they are good at them, but unlovely self- congratulation is masked by a bogus sociability. "We only play because it's fun," they insist. Since being good at games generally involves high levels of deviousness, lying and sadism, they haven't got much to boast about.

Some years ago I was induced to host a session of that demonic exercise in mental cruelty known as Diplomacy. I felt a little reassured to be taken on one side by my boyfriend, a keen gamer who muttered, "Look, I know you don't like games very much, so you just stick with me; I'll watch out for your interests and give you advice." There were about 10 of us in the tiny flat. When the time came for the secret negotiations that form the staple action of Diplomacy, we huddled in little groups on the stairs, in the bathroom and kitchen and the bedroom. Now there was one particular Little Missy with whom I never got on. Posh, recently sprung from Roedean or similar, not quite as pretty and irresistible as she thought she was, always batting her eyelashes and sponging drinks off people: you know the type. Ludus beckoned me into the bathroom.

"Okay," he whispered. "Let's gang up together and crucify her. I'll tell her that I'm going to back her if she invades X, but really I'll back you if you invade her." When, after all the whispered conferences, the players reconvened to divulge their true intentions, it became clear that Ludus, the bastard, was going to unite with Missy and crucify me. Simpering, Missy scooped up her extra counters, congratulating herself on the superior charms which brought her free drinks and easy victories. "But

"He told you that?" Her catty little mouth curved. "And you believed him? Oh hahahahaha!" At which point I screamed, hurtled down three flights of stairs and ran off along the middle of the road, shrieking all the way. I never could get Ludus to admit his despicable perfidy. "It's only a game ... it's not as though it's personal ..."

I just don't have the games mentality. I was at a comparatively late age when I realised that when playing cards, it's advisable to try to remember what everyone else has discarded, and work out what they've got in their hands. Phew, too much like hard work! Nor is rivalry and point- scoring my idea of fun. Like all the differently abled, I see competition as a gross threat to self-esteem. It is my opinion that games should be enjoyable for their own sake, like charades. At tennis I prefer to knock up endlessly rather than play a match, thus elevating the activity to the Zen plane of pure pointlessness.

I ascribe this incompetence at games not only to a sweet, ingenuous nature but the fact that I was, for a short stretch at least, an only child. I liked nothing better than to play Monopoly - by myself. The running commentary which was an essential adjunct followed the adventures of a little doggy, trotting to the metropolis with high hopes and not much cash, thwarted at every turn by an evil, plutocratic Top Hat that hung around Park Lane catching little doggies and throwing them in jail. The story followed our underdog's progress from the stews of the Old Kent Road to the West End. Eventually, and without much reference to Chance cards or dice-throws, the Scotty would triumph and Top Hat be carted away.

Thus heroic quests rather than capitalist fantasies stirred my imagination, and games with an exciting setting still appeal: like Kingmaker, which replays the Wars of the Roses, even though the progress from faction- forming through to coronation tends to last four hours. My handicap was that I always wanted to take the Earl of March to Carisbrooke Castle because it sounded cool, not because there was any tactical advantage in so doing.

For those who live with serious gamers, life is especially gloomy. Other people get begged for bizarre sexual favours; you will be pleaded for a quick session of Reach for the Sky or Civilisation. Ludus once got me to play a battleship game that involves two ship shapes cut out of card, manoeuvring endlessly on a sea of carpet. The imagination needed to conjure a picaresque narrative from a Monopoly board pales beside the powers required to breathe stirring adventure into a war-game

It's not really surprising that an addict of this intensity is going to approach a simple game of Ludo with the martial solemnity of Julius Caesar. So challenge them to charades, Twister or Tyrant's Tower, anything that will vex their digits rather than their pointy little heads, and when they falter and fail, sneer with crushing finality, "It's only a game."

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