on the importance of making time to play the games you like with the people you love

In the introduction to my short collection of gaming essays called Games Matter, I wrote: 

Of all the things that make me a geek, nothing brings me more joy, or is more important to me, than gaming. I am the person I am today because of the games I played and the people I played them with as I came of age in the 80s.

Playing games — from video games to role playing games to hobby board games — has been as much of a constant in my life as acting and creating stories. This isn't surprising to me at all, because gaming and acting and storytelling are all interwoven in my life.

About a year ago, my gaming group, who I've played with since high school, suffered a TPK. It's complicated, and it's genuinely tragic, but it's the reality I now have to deal with: getting a group together to play games is, for the first time in my life, much harder than simply sending out an e-mail or making a few phone calls.

I know, I know, #nerdworldproblems.

Still, I miss pulling a huge stack of boardgames out of my closet, putting them on the dining room table, and wondering what we're going to end up playing when everyone gets here. I miss investing in an RPG character I'm playing, or a campaign I'm running, and looking at that day on the calendar when we'll be back in that game's world.

Being a capital-G Gamer, it isn't surprising to me that I miss gaming with some degree of regularity… what does surprise me is realizing that I miss gaming as much — and with the same sense of emotional loss — as I miss acting and writing when I'm not doing those things. 

For the last few days, I've been lucky, and I've had some friends around to play the hell out of a lot of games. We've played Last Night On Earth, Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Say Anything, Small World, Munchkin, Chez Geek, and more.

Last night, as I was falling asleep after an evening of gaming, beers and pizza with some friends, I realized that before this past week, I hadn't played games in so long, I had forgotten how much I need to play them. I realized how much I missed playing them, the way you miss a person you love when you don't see them for weeks or months at a time.

In a weird way, I'm grateful for the sadness I feel when I think about having three bookshelves that are filled with games I probably won't get to play as much as I want to, because when I finally do get to play them, like I have recently, I appreciate it that much more.

So let me close this by going all Voice of Experience on you: Keep playing games. Make time to play games with your friends and family, because it's surprisingly heartbreaking to wipe a thin layer of dust off a game you love, before you put it back on the shelf because the real world is calling you.

94 thoughts on “on the importance of making time to play the games you like with the people you love”

  1. Husband and I went to a friend’s for the weekend a few days ago. Was a perfect, relaxed weekend.
    He introduced us to Ticket To Ride and Settlers, neither of which we’d played before, we really enjoyed both. And we also played Carcassone, which we know but hadn’t played for a while.
    Other than that, all we did was visit a local camera/ whisky store (it’s fabulous, sells your normal camera hardware, but sold by folks who know the specs and can advise on what you’re buying but it also sells an extensive range of really good whisky, mostly Scottish but some whiskey from Ireland and some international stuff).
    And cook a roast dinner.
    And play more games, some weird fish thing on PS3 called Flow which I found strangely addictive once I stopped flinging the controller around like a crazy lady trying to get to grips with the motion detection controls.
    We don’t play games often but we always really enjoy it when we do. It’s a great way to spend time with friends, in my opinion.
    Sorry your group has disbanded.

  2. I feel your pain. Have for 20 years.
    The only games I can play with friends now are MMOs. (Which TOR is a pretty fun one so far).
    But I miss playing an actual game with actual people. Life gets in the way too much.
    Was a big reason I went to PAX East last year (They need a PAX South in Orlando!). I play D&D vicariously through Acquisitions, INC. Wish I could play again.

  3. Well said sir.
    I have a friends whose young daughter has cancer. Because of the chemo, they can’t get out much. I have been taking games over to there house, and not only is it fun, I have also realized how much I miss a gaming night. It is entertainment, visiting, verbal sparing, an so much more. It lets us forget about all the things that are happening in our lives for a while and lets us just enjoy ourselves.
    My friend and are talking that when his daughter gets better, we have to look at going to a game con.

  4. "Other than that, all we did was visit a local camera/ whisky store (it's fabulous, sells your normal camera hardware, but sold by folks who know the specs and can advise on what you're buying but it also sells an extensive range of really good whisky, mostly Scottish but some whiskey from Ireland and some international stuff)."
    Wait. What.

  5. I love that you're taking games to your friends. You're doing a kind and wonderful thing. Please give my best to them all for her speedy recovery.

  6. Well there is the kind and nice part, but I get as much out of it as they do. I told him to tell his daughter you wished her a speedy recovery. It seems you don’t have much recognition in the preteen female demographic. :) However the family does appreciate the sentiments.

  7. I’m lucky to be married to a boardgame designer, so there’s no shortage of playable titles in our house. Not only is she totally hot, but she’s one of the few female game designers in the world (and an award-winning one, at that!).
    She’s also teamed up with an excellent illustrator (the wife of “DM of the Rings” author Shamus Young) to produce a small two-player card game that’s been enjoying some popularity on the ‘geek (http://whimsygames.ca/sherwoodshowdown/).
    Not only is she into all kinds of boardgames, but she also joins me from time to time in my video game pursuits- which makes her an all-round awesome lady!

  8. wow, I had a sort of similar realization last weekend after realizing it’s been so long since playing regular table top games that I had to relearn yahtzee. It made me just a little sad and annoyed at myself to realize I rarely, if ever, get to play non-video game games any more. This post sort of cemented the idea in my mind that I need to start trying to host a game night in the new year. Thanks.

  9. Hey Will,
    I’m sitting way down here in Christchurch, New Zealand looking at a medium sized box that arrived in the post yesterday.
    Inside – Munchkin sets 1-6 which I grabbed at a great price on a local auction site.
    I’ve never played Munchkin. In fact, I had never even heard of it before reading about it on your blog a couple of years ago. The hilarious fun you’ve had playing with friends and family convinced me to snag the auction.
    Now I just need to learn the rules and rope some friends into playing.
    Looking forward to it. :)

  10. LOAD “*”,8,1
    In the last few years I have been a little nostalgic about my gaming youth. After a few years absent from gaming I got back into it again with this new sense of nostalgia. I jumped on eBay and bought a Commodore 64 with tape and disk drives and got into it ;-).
    I guess my fondest and earliest memory of gaming with friends was back in the BBS days before the Internet really took off here in Australia. Me and a mate and a bunch of other geeks all stood up a new BBS with 2 phone lines and started hosting L.O.R.D games (Legend of the Red Dragon, text MUD). It was epic fun and I really miss them and the game. I would not experience that again until meeting a new bunch of friends in World of Warcraft (until we experienced our own TPK a couple years later).
    Lets all game on!!! :-)

  11. Wil,
    I am in a different boat as you and some of the others here, as I have never played D&D, and just recently began to play Magic. I was introduced to it by the LRR crew at PAX East this past year, and I have to say, while they helped get me to want to play it more, PAX East helped me realize how much I really had been missing out. This PAX East, I plan on actually signing up for an intro game of D&D, as well as a ton of PAX Pokemon league challenging. But this all serves me as a reminder that I need to find a regular group of friends to play with, to get to know, and to escape these doldrums that I have been in since graduating college in 2009.
    Also, if I was in your town, and were able to prove to you that I was not just a crazy fanboy wanting to go all “Misery” on you (*puts away hobbling machine of doom*) but a regular person with similar interests, I’d be willing to help you start up a second group.

  12. Where did you find a TV that can work with your C=>64? I have a Ti 99/4a and an Atari 800 that can't connect to any of my modern sets.

  13. I can’t remember the last time I played an RPG. It might have been during the mid-80s when a friend of mine was the game-master for some kind of Marvel Comics RPG. He jumped all over me and our other friends for picking five characters who couldn’t possibly ever fight together for anything. :)
    I still have a lot of the classic board games. Life, Careers, Sorry, Trouble, Trivial Pursuit, even a signed-by-the-creator edition of Pictionary. I need to start taking one of them with me whenever I go over to someone else’s house.
    I also have a board game that two friends created for me and gave to me as a birthday present about 15 years ago combining my interest in baseball and just about everything that happened to me between the time I met these two people and when I got the game. FIMO-clay game pieces, an inner path, several inner paths, two stacks of cards (one affects players’ funds and the other affects players’ movements). The winner of the game is the first person to collect one piece from each inner path (half of them need a certain dice roll and the other half need a certain amount of game money).
    After the first game, the rules were tweaked a bit because it was playing like Monopoly (too long for the average non-D&D party).
    I’ve played it almost a dozen times and even though it’s a game for me and about me, I’ve still yet to win a game of it.

  14. My husband and I opened a game store and then rarely got to game. We realized we were getting crankypants on each other way to much and THEN realized we weren’t getting to game.
    We then did two things: 1) hired a part-timer (yeah! job creation!) and 2) set aside Friday mornings together so we can play.
    Now we play a game together at least once a week and life is good again. Plus, now that we own a game store we get to call it “research.”
    Life is good.

  15. We’ve gone all digital gaming over here. Haven’t touched a D&D board in years, and I don’t think the kiddo has even seen one! However, we’ll definitely pick up your Games Matter eBook to add to the library that we’re starting to build, on the very same subject. We’re picking up “Reality Is Broken” by Jane McGonigal at the end of the month. Just waiting on the PB version. It was suggested to us by one of our *handful* of readers.
    Anyway, I don’t want to SPAM. If this message is viewed that way DELETE IT. But, I think what my 15-year-old son wrote for Kotaku recently is incredibly relevant to the conversation here. Games matter a whole lot to him and to me! http://kotaku.com/5867233/how-i-stopped-worrying-about-ehlers+danlos-syndrome-and-started-my-own-video-game-blog

  16. About 25 years ago my original gaming group and still a bunch of friends were working at the Flying Buffalo game company, makers of Nuclear War and Tunnels & Trolls. I occasionally hosted movie days/nights, and a couple of Saturdays became impressively large when like a dozen+ people showed. We decided those were WayneCons.
    Fast forward to six years ago and I’ve moved to New Mexico after getting married, and I’ve pretty much stopped gaming. My wife and I occasionally play two-player board/card games, but not often. Haven’t been motivated to try to form another group. The only time we’d get to play RPG’s is on our occasional trips to Phoenix and those groups became somewhat tenuous.
    Both the Phoenix and Tucson game conventions died this year, so I decided to host a small game convention, WayneCon 3. Rented the clubhouse at the condos that I used to live at, had nine people show up last night, and had a blast. Two more days, and I’m running Lady Blackbird and Fortune’s Fool, one friend running Dresden, and we might get some Star Wars D6 in.
    I’ll probably be out of pocket $75-100 on the clubhouse rental as not as many people showed up as I’d like, I need 15 people to break even on the rental, but I don’t care. I’m having fun with friends, hurling dice, and life is good.

  17. This is my first time ever posting to a blog and I know I’m late to the thread, but ‘investing in a RPG character’ struck a chord.

    I played PnP D&D way back when, but was never a numbers cruncher. However, I have very fond memories of an evil halfling that sold out the group to some slavers that spoke a language only he could understand. Thank the gods for a DM that rewarded inventive character moves, both good and evil.

    I found NWN a number of years back and have mostly played that until last year. Spent many, many, many hours on a dedicated server as both player and DM. Our one campaign has been running for just over two years and still going, albeit with long breaks for real life issues that pop up for players and DMs. We are hoping to start up again in Jan, fingers crossed.

    However, I have notebooks next to the laptop filled with character notes for NWN alts I’ll never play again. My background is in theatre, and RPG became my substitute when I couldn’t be on stage. As improv goes, I’ve never had a better class. My characters really lived, one even got married in-game…geeky, I know. But it worked, lol. However, players started to go separately ways as life took the front seat and I had to upgrade.

    Surprisingly, I didn’t like NWN2 as much as I like NWN. Go figure. I tried LoTR online but couldn’t really get into it. Same for WoW. I’ve played some of the other role-play game like Assassin, The Witcher, and Dragon Age. For the past two years, I’ve been playing DDO which is pretty fun for bashing things, but no RP – which is sad.

  18. Wow, not an hour ago I was telling hubby how much I miss the Saturday night gaming we used to have with friends who have since moved away. You’d think, as game store owners, that we would have more opportunities to play, but no such luck.
    We are, however, having a “Game in the New Year” party this year and I cannot even express in words how much I’m looking forward to it! Bring on Shadow Hunters, Incan Gold, King of Tokyo and Star Fluxx!

  19. Awesome! I have been playing games every week for the past twenty years with the same group of friends. We play every Sunday night until it’s so late we all regret how tired we are going to be in the morning but we still push it another half and hour. We play AD&D, Marvel, Star Wars and or any other RPG that we feel is worthy of our attention that month. Campaigns and one-shot deals, it’s all fun for us.
    I am nearly the same age as you and I know what it’s like to grow up as games have evolved. I sit down with my PS3 or XBOX and marvel at the graphics and gameplay and remember blowing into my Atari 2600 Astroids cartridge just to make it work. Those were the days. Thanks for bringing back all those memories and I will continue to make new ones each and every week in Minnesota. There’s always a chair open for you if you find yourself in Minneapolis anytime soon.
    P.S. I have the same problem with collecting dice. I just can’t stop myself. When our DM asks me to roll a d20 I literally have 100 of them to pick from. It’s a problem I should probably take some pills for or something.

  20. Thrift Stores are perfect places to get OLD TV’s that only work for those ancient gaming systems. I bought a really early 80s TV from a Thrift store to hook my Intellivision to and it worked great. The colors were a little off and it smelled of elder berries but it worked. I just wore some rubber gloves while carrying it out to the car and I tried to ignore the nicotine stains all over it, but for a while it was heaven in my garage. My wife would NOT let it into the house. But it was fun while it lasted, which was about five weeks.

  21. There’s a cafe in Toronto called Snakes & Lattes. Instead of wifi or books or newspapers, it has two whole walls of shelves of pretty much every board game known to man. You can sit and play all afternoon, drinking coffee or a beer. I spent the afternoon there with some dear friends I haven’t seen in a while, and it made me think of this post.

  22. I really miss the first roll of a character. Asking the DM if I use 4 d6 dropping the lowest die result for my stats. Asking if I can put my rolls where I want them to fit what I want to play. Realizing that with my rolls I can only play a warrior with a 14 strength and a 7 charisma even though I wanted to play a :insert class here:.
    Rolling my starting money and buying starter equipment. (Don’t forget rope and a backpack). Deciding on a name and background story. Do I multi-class a gnome thief/illusionist like I always loved to do or do I try something new?
    The excitement of seeing that bandit chief having a +1 dagger in a locked chest.
    Simpler times with good friends. It makes me miss my best friend growing up who introduced me to AD&D. He passed away a few years back and his mom recently gave me his old AD&D starter box with a few old modules in them (Keep on the Borderlands, Slave Pits of the Undercity, etc). R.I.P. Sammy. I miss you.

  23. My family and I were always board gamers, with a lot of party games, but as an adult, I’m pretty much the only one who wants to play. I happened to wander into our game shop about a year ago (they were gaming 24 hours for charity and were recruiting everywhere) and discovered I love strategy gaming. We did Battlestar Galatica, Pandemic, and Last Night on Earth, and I was hooked. I love Settlers, natch, Small World, Ticket to Ride, Fluxx (so cool!), and the Revolution- have you tried that? So fun! and Union Pacific and so many more I’m forgetting to mention. I don’t get to as much nowadays, but when I do, it’s totally awesome.
    (Long time listener, first time caller!)

  24. As luck would have it I still had one TV left in the house that I could get it working in. Even though my C64 (C64C model) has an AV output, it did not work. Luckily the ye olde TV I had could still tune in to the C64’s RF signal. Have you considered an RF TV tuner card for your PC? (even my latest PC upgrade still came with a PCI slot). There may be a few out there capable of tuning into old consoles RF signals.
    The completely geeky alternative, and my next plan for my C64 is this -> http://www.vesalia.de/e_chameleon.htm
    This adds VGA output, Ethernet connectivity, PS2 Keyboard and Mouse, debugging interface and emulated storage >:-) YEAH! πŸ˜€ Combine this baby with ContikiOS and roll a webserver off your C64 πŸ˜‰

  25. I feel that way about books. I never tire of rediscovering a foreign land, a forgotten love or a beloved character. I asked for your book Just a Geek for Christmas. If I get it is there a way to get it signed? That would make my christmas. SASE perhaps?

  26. We’re running a New Year’s Eve gaming party as well — the addition this year is that we all have to make up a game using all the bits, baubles, dice, etc that have found their way to our lost and found during the year. I think I’ve got people intentionally leaving pieces behind now!

  27. I echo just about everything said from the other commenters.
    as always, you manage to hit the nail right on the head.
    makes me appreciate my gaming group a little more… and grateful a friend is back in town this weekend after being on the west coast.

  28. You’re lucky you still have your TI. My mom sold mine at a thrift store. And threw away the tapes I was using to write my Double Dragon clone.
    TI Basic, how I miss thee. OLD CS1!

  29. Will,
    Gaming is a “Calling” no matter what type you play. I have a house full of gamers and we have been going to Gamestorm here in Portland for the last few years. Nothing like showing your kids every game know to man in one place and playable (assuming you don’t sleep for 4 days)

  30. I hoped to have it ready by now, but life had other plans. It should be ready just after the new year.
    …and I LOVE that you're interested in using it for your course!

  31. I totally tried posting a response to this when you posted the thing, but there was a fail moment. So here I am again. :)
    Anyhow, we had quite the gaming group in college, and in fact I attribute our gaming group to bringing my husband and I together (I remember the exact moment: while playing Vampire: The Masquerade we found ourselves facing a hovercraft. This of course required me to quote from Monty Python “My hovercraft is full of eels!” Which prompted my now-husband to respond “I will not buy this record, it is scratched!” By the end of college, and after many all nighters playing stupid games like Risk (which I now refuse to play because of how long that thing takes) we eventually parted ways, and broke ties over dumb stuff with the main friend who organized everything.
    A few years later, after drifting apart a little, and all becoming serious hermits, we realized that while the glue that held our friend group together back then was no longer a part of our lives, we couldn’t let the gaming go away forever.
    So we started up again seriously about 3 years ago. And we’ve been playing (D&D mainly) regularly, ever since. In fact, we just wrapped up our 3 year long campaign a few weeks ago. It was bittersweet, but over the years we were playing, we made new friends and socialized, often. It was great!
    So anyway, that’s what I wanted to share. :)

  32. As a Toy Soldier, I heartily agree. The Army of Toy Soldiers emphasize the human need for play, especially with friends; that taking time to have fun, and not letting the “real world” get in the way of that, should be a top priority in our lives.
    Besides… the Twilight Zone taught us that a simple game of Kick the Can was the secret of eternal youth! So keep playing those games!
    ~ Sky Marshal Goode

  33. I love games, but sadly I’m not much of a “gamer,” meaning that while I played a bit of AD&D in junior high and learned both Magic and the Star Wars card game in college, I don’t know how to really play tabletop RPGs. And I’m not in to MMOs and the like. What I love are board games. Sadly, it’s hard to find the time and the people to play them much these days, and as much as I’d love to learn the tabletop RPGs, I’m afraid I don’t know where to start with getting a group together. Most of my friends are scattered to the four winds.
    That said, I just got Munchkin for Christmas from my sister, who knows nothing about such things but thought it looked like fun and that I would like it. I think she’s right, and I can’t wait to try it out. I’m super excited! I’ve read your Munchkin blogs, and it just sounds like such a blast! Any advice for a n00b?
    PS-I’m sad because I have to work on New Year’s Eve, which is the one day of the year that I have historically been able to get a game night together. Boo. But the work pays well, and honestly, I’m just grateful to have a job, given the world right now, so roll on substitute party time, huh?

  34. Love game nights! We run them regularly, we also promote games in our community here in Ottawa Canada with gaming events and donating games to schools and libraries (http://gamesforall.ca).
    Love it so much I started publishing games! Have you ever wanted to be illustrated into a game? We’re publishing our new Mad Scientist theme party dice game with the help of Kickstarter. Our game FrankenDie (http://kck.st/s0dakV) is our first. We offer a support level that will get yourself illustrated & immortalized into the game as either a Mad Scientist or a Creature!
    Wil – interested? πŸ˜›

  35. Posted this gaming comment on the Picard/Crusher/Warp Drive page by mistake, so here it goes again:
    If you like to game, come join CONTACT for COTI. COTI is a challenge and a hoot — you might find yourself as part of an alien team that includes some of the top scientists and futurists on Earth. CONTACT is described on its homepage, which links to COTI descriptions: http://www.contact-conference.com/ (Rick Sternbach is one of the founders.) This year, Larry Niven will be the COTI shepard.
    Great small, inexpensive, mind-blowing conference in Sunnyvale, California.
    Don Scott, writer, teacher, mind-ranger

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