“Matthew, go grab the cribbage board and let’s play a couple games.”
Spoken by my dad countless times growing up, those words preceded some of the best memories I have from my childhood. Despite facing the possibility of the dreaded “Double-Skunk”, and more often than not being on the losing end of those games, it was always quality time well spent, and it’s primarily why my wife and I still play often to this day
I reflect now on just why those times were so memorable, and I’m convinced it was because of one thing: there was nothing at stake, no incentive to be had. The games were always just for fun, nothing more, nothing less. Quality time in a game of cribbage between father and son was good, and that was good enough.
However, if the circumstances were different, that if something like allowance or a remission of chores were on the line, the game itself would have become, necessarily, less fun and thereby less meaningful. The game would’ve ceased to be about developing a quality bond between players, and became about only what one stood to gain from winning.
The temptation to place bets on a simple contest, to “sweeten the pot” or make things “a little more exciting”, seems to come from a sincere wish for fulfillment, albeit an individualistic one. I think we miss the point of what a game is for when we reduce it to a means of simply padding our wallets.
A game — whether it’s cards, golf, pickup basketball, or something else — necessarily requires the active participation and cooperation of the people playing. But as I’ve mentioned before, games are a means, not an end in themselves. They exist to build up the relationship between all players, not the livelihood of just one. And so we ought to fight against the urge to make games about a bet instead of about the bond between players.
We’ve lost, in large part, the ability to witness the uniqueness and wonder of true friendship and have replaced it instead with an odd form of mutual appeasement. Instead of risking discomfort to build up a lasting joy in our friendship, we opt for a quicker, less risky form of reward in the form of the friendly wager.
Though seemingly insignificant, the most meaningful and memorable moments in a friendship come while playing games in some form, so we ought to make those times count. And besides, the success of society depends on it. (Yes, really)
In speaking on the modern world, Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (“Joy & Hope”) had this to say on friendship:
The progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another. Since social life is not something added on to man, through his dealings with others, through reciprocal duties, and through fraternal dialogue he develops all his gifts and is able to rise to his destiny.
We become better people by having good relationships. And the only way to have good relationships is to do things that help to build them up, with as few distractions as possible.
When G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders,” one of the things he was referring to were the wonders to be found in other people. They’re there if we choose to look for them, but often we opt for other, seemingly more fulfilling things.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. So save your wagers for someone who needs them and go play a game with friends for fun. Your friendships will flourish, you’ll become a better person, and the world will be a better place for it.