As we discover in family life, times and technology may change but people stay the same. Although protested in younger years, most discover that turning into their parents is somewhat unavoidable. It's not surprising then that through history people have always liked to play games. The form and function has changed over the years but that innate human desire to play together finds its expression in every generation.
Games teach us to look for patterns to improve our performance. We learn to collect, order, clean up and generally sort things out to progress through each gaming experience. This works well because we are also driven by these things in real life. We instinctively want to create order out of chaos.
I recently realised that the games I played also served to order the patterns of my everyday life. Rather than a grand religion or purpose punctuating my week, it was the humble game that marked off the different parts of my day. Not to put down big ideas or religion, rather that games just played more of a part in my life in a rubber hitting the road kind of way.
We could make much of game's social interaction, or of the communities they create, or even the grand sagas and legends they depict. These all have religious parallels for sure, but when you get down to it - when you regularly play - games are significant because they provide little escapes from the rest of life. Much as prayer functions in the church, synagogue and mosque, games can offer a chance to pause from everyday work and draw breath before returning to the coal face.
Without realising it, I was reflecting on this very point whilst playing Boom Blox with my wife the other evening. Playing the co-operative levels with Jo gave me just enough space to process what was going on in my life. I traced my playtime through the last few days and noticed a pattern. This thought made a connection for me with my childhood experience of our family’s church attendance.
While I have stepped back from much of that religious world, I still reminisce of the security and pleasure I got as a child from the little trips into that old building through the week. While Wikipedia helped me remember how the 'canonical hours' marked out each visit, I found myself making connections with my gaming habits. While I read 'Canonical hours are ancient divisions of time, developed by the Christian Church, serving as increments between the prescribed prayers of the daily round.' I realised how central gaming had become to the pattern of each day.
Vespers: My pre-bedtime gaming on the DS with Ellen (5) easily mirrored the sunset evening prayers of Vespers. We both enjoy the little collection of quiet contemplative games played before I settle her into bed. These range from the languid spot the difference challenges of Quick Spot to the gentle rolling around of Pac n Roll to the colouring of Crayola Adventure.
Compline: Then there is my more recent habit of finishing the day with a Yoga session on Wii-Fit that put me in mind of the boarding school favourite bedtime prayers of Compline. Wii-fit's gentle routines similarly put me in a mind set ready for stopping and hopefully some sleep.
Matins: With three under five in the house the idea of waking before dawn is painfully familiar. One or other child is often awake or needing attention before the night is out. My habit of playing games too mature for the kids after they have gone to bed and before they wake up mirrors Matins' prayerful watches before dawn. In the lamplight of the living room I play my way through the Bioshocks and Metroid Primes of my gaming cannon.
Lauds: The new day begins and one way or another I get myself dressed and help where I can with the kids breakfast before grabbing the PSP and heading out the door. Sat on my bus amongst other commuters offers another opportunity to pause and play some games. Like the morning prayers of Lauds I ready myself for the day with some orderly activity. The tuneful puzzles of Lumines still a firm favourite.
Terce, Sext: As in many of our offices, breaks are infrequent at work so I have learnt to create my own excuses to regulate the day. The toilet cubicles that silently play host to a Snake and Bejewelled on my mobile or Peggle on my iPod strike more than a few similarities to the prayer chambers of the midmorning prayer of Terce and the Midday prayer of Sext. The day then ends and I return home to the kid's tea and bedtime and the cycle repeats itself.
At the end of the day this little anecdote simply shows how gaming provides me the sort of structure that previous generations may have found in the daily cycle of Vespers, Compline, Matins, Lauds, Terce and Sext. How well games function as meditation is something of an absurd question, and part of a much larger debate about the artistic value of games. A subject that needs more space than our sketch could provide.
But this sketch has allowed me to reflect and enjoy thinking about how games punctuate my life and naturally lead me to stop what I'm doing for a while. This is something I know my busy family, work and friend filled life is much in need of. I wonder if this is anything like how games function for you? I hope you've enjoyed this too (don't worry back to something a little lighter again next time)?
Paul Govan - The Family Gamer