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Let The Games Begin

I am still trying to come to terms with the decision to allow three different households to mix over five days at Christmas this year.  Watching Gogglebox last week, it was once again interesting to see the reaction to the government announcement.  There was no sense that people felt the need to have such leeway, with more than one response expressing surprise that so many people would be allowed to gather, and over such a prolonged period.  Things we have been told so often to avoid – for example being indoors with others, hugging, singing, shouting – are many of the features of Christmas.  It therefore seems hard to imagine how these will not combine to create another wave of infections in January and February, before there has been time to vaccinate widely. 

At least we cannot say that our leaders offer no crumbs of comfort, because one piece of allegedly helpful advice to offset the pending catastrophe is to avoid playing board games.  I am not sure resisting the temptation for an argument over the Monopoly board will be enough, but it may offer some comfort to those who dread the annual call to the dining room table for two or three hours of hell while rules are explained, lost pieces searched for and stronger drinks sourced. 

If I do spend time with the family this year, we may end up sitting in my mum’s conservatory, which always makes me think of Cluedo, and Colonel Mustard doing something dastardly with a revolver or a piece of lead pipe.  If you look up on Wikipedia the details of the game’s inventor, Anthony Ernest Pratt, you will find a life of splendid middle-class ordinariness, and yet his simple idea for a family murder mystery game has touched the lives of millions and created a lexicon all of its own.  Cluedo was always our go-to game of choice and I salute Mr Pratt and thank him profusely.  In the spoof film ‘Murder by Death’, Peter Falk, who most famously played Lieutenant Columbo for so many years, is one of the detectives invited to solve a case.  His best line in the film is: ‘This can only mean one thing, and I don’t have a clue what that is’, a line I use whenever I can while failing to find the killer, the location or the weapon. 

For over five years now, I have been quietly addicted to a different sort of game.  It is called Boom Beach and I play it on my iPad every day, probably for about an hour.  If it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at something, which is open to significant debate, as you will know if you read this blog regularly, then I am apparently about a fifth of the way to mastering this challenge, which is clearly far from the case.  Fortunately, it seems to be a game that requires very little skill or concentration, meaning it can happily be played while watching television or multi-tasking in other ways. 

Boom Beach was free to download, and I am proud that I have never once been tempted to spend money buying additional resources or shortcuts to success.  This may mean I am destined for mediocrity and being towards the bottom of any competitive elements of the game, but this is of no interest to me and I have no plans to change my approach.  Only occasionally has it created disharmony in the family household, usually when I am called upon at short notice to contribute to the domestic agenda and I ask for a couple of minutes to finish attacking something. 

If you remove the competitive spirit from the game, it is essentially a challenge of economics, the allocation of finite resources to achieve progress.  While I can well imagine others wanting to spend money to buy diamonds or extra builders, I am happy to accumulate what I need over time.  The story of the hare and the tortoise, most recently articulated in a particularly strange advert for IKEA, has always resonated with me.  I have encountered many hares over the years, most of whom did not get their comeuppance as the fable implies; but I have always been drawn to the tortoise, to the slower accumulation of progress, building solid foundations and creating something that might last. 

I have always been hopeless at most computer games.  I never seem able to drive a car fast enough or straight enough to win any races, my forces are quickly wiped out by the enemy in any kind of shooting game and Lara Croft rarely gets beyond the early stages of her quests under my control.  I did manage some success while I was bed-ridden for two weeks after a minor operation a few years ago, though only after finding a website that provided an idiot’s walkthrough guide that described every pitfall, thereby replacing the frustration of a lack of progress with the guilt of knowing it was only achieved through cheating. 

The recent success of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ on Netflix, which I would happily recommend as a good watch over Christmas if you have not already seen it, has apparently inspired people to take up playing chess.  A traditional game of face-to-face combat should only be played by those who share a bubble just now, though there are many ways to play remotely.  Like everything else, it requires patience and dedication to make real progress, and I am in awe of those who can master its many challenges and play at a high level. 

Long before the days of computer games, I had an electronic chess game that occupied me for hours in my youth.  With appropriate dedication and practice, I actually got quite good at the game and could give the machine a run for its money at quite a high level.  Having recently downloaded a rather more sophisticated version, it is clear that any skills I may once have had will need a considerable reboot in the coming weeks, as anything beyond the most basic level usually ends in a humiliating defeat.  But the development of a better skill set on the computer chess board strikes me as an ideal way to spend time over Christmas, safely away from the dangers that other people might still bring, and lost, very lost, in my own little world. 

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