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. Interestingly enough we just did that without gaming group. Life hit a bunch of us and two of us had kids in the last year…we got together on Friday and it was glorious.
    Yup, and now we feel the need to do it again.

  2. I totally feel you on this. It’s been over 2 years since I had a regular D&D group and the occasional game of Settlers doesn’t cut that need.
    I’ve often thought there needs to be a great way of doing pure P&P games online. It’s got to have video chat and the ability to adapt to any P&P game.
    Other than that, maybe call out “LFG Rogue with a penchant for party theft” just doesn’t cut it.

  3. Starting 4 to 5 years ago, we threw the nights of smokey crowd filled bars for New Years Eve to the winds. Instead, we replaced those drunken nights with a group of friends that meet every year and ring in the New Year playing board games over a few beers! Best decision ever, we’ve had so much more fun gaming it up with friends when the ball drops.

  4. I totally relate! I did a lot of regular gaming through high school and university, and even my first few years in the “real world”, then circumstances changed, and it was hard to get together. About 6 years ago, I was able to get a regular Thursday board games group going with some of the same guys, and some new friends (my wife even plays sometimes), and it’s still going strong. I eagerly look forward to every Thursday evening (as well as other opportunities to play)!
    And, Wil, you’re more than welcome to join us any time you’re in Toronto! :)

  5. I agree 100%, Wil, though my gaming shelves call BS on me as they sit under a heavy layer of dust.
    Some games, like Munchkin, get more love than others because I play them with my kids now. But the heavy-duty wargames like ASL haven’t been touched in years.
    A good thing about this though – my oldest boy is now strongly into Pathfinder and plays once a week with his friends. I encourage it, but man, I’m jealous!

  6. I haven’t played an RPG for almost a year now and I’m going through withdrawals. Finding time when everyone can get together is so difficult now that everyone works. /sigh. If only…..

  7. This immediately struck me in a very deep place: “I miss investing in an RPG character I’m playing.” Until I read that, I didn’t realize how very much I miss that too. Thank you so much, Wil.

  8. As is so often the case, you’ve nailed this perfectly. I find when I go long enough without gaming my skin starts to itch and I have this incessant need to get together with people and play. For my Ph.D. graduation party, we gamed for over 12 hours – card games, dice games, board games, Rock Band, and Kinect dancing and sports. It was glorious.
    When oh when will Games Matter be out for the Kindle? I really *need* to read it. I’m working on turning my dissertation into a book and I’d love to have more material of yours to quote. :)

  9. I'm working on an eBook version of Games Matter right now, actually. I should have it in the Kindle and Nook stores by the end of the week (but I don't know how long it will take for them to process and approve them.)

  10. My husband and I make a point to play games every Friday night, anything from the general everyday boardgames, to some oldies such as HeroQuest, to Wii games. It’s been a few years since we’ve gotten together with our other gaming friends for a few rounds of Magic: The Gathering or some D&D. I do miss that level of nerdy interaction.

  11. I’d been running a Serenity RPG for the last year or so, but about a month ago, I got the itch to play D&D again, which I hadn’t played since high school (about 20 years ago). I mentioned it to my wife, and then this happened:
    HER: I could run a D&D game.
    ME: Reallly?!?
    HER: Sure! I used to run them all the time in high school.
    ME: I have never loved you more than at this moment.
    We’re three sessions into our D&D campaign now (ed. 3.5), and my beautiful wife is an awesome DM. I’ve reconnected with my lead figures (I guess they call them miniatures these days) and my friends and I are having an absolute blast.
    MMORPGs and video games are fun, but nothing touches the pure joy of tabletop RPGs … especially D&D.

  12. A bunch of us at work were recently all lamenting the lack of gaming in our lives… So now we’re rolling old-school, first-edition AD&D every Friday at lunch, and it feels *great*. I didn’t know how much I missed it!

  13. I remember as a kid dad would gather me and my 2 sibblings in the rec-room (OK it was the 70’s stop snickering) at least one Sunday a month to play games.
    Monopoly was a common choice but we also played Clue, Life & Payday. The last being from his younger years and which taught money management better than Monopoly or Life ever will.
    Camping trips always included a dec of cards (we were ruthless at WAR!)and Password.
    OOO Christmas Idea!!! This year I’ve had a hard time coming up with gift suggesstions as I really don’t need anything – surprising since we were hit with a flood last year and filled a 20yd dumpster as a result!
    Instead of some plastic bauble or unflattering clothes I am going to ask my hubby for the commitment of 2 game nights each month. No cable, no netbook, no internet. Just us and a few games. For my folks I think a game night each quarter would be a good gift – they say we never visit enough.

  14. I agree with you Wil. I have a group of people that I get together with twice a month to play games. We have, for the last year, been engaged in an intense Warhammer 40K tabletop war. We dont always play that when we get together, but we play something. Its a great way to relax, get old friends together, and spend some quality time.

  15. Wil, you won’t remember this, but for a couple of years I used to comment semi-regularly on your gaming posts expressing a deep desire to find a roleplaying group.
    I’m happy to say that my RPG friends and I meet once a week for a few hours of fun, and have recently started having boardgame weekends too!
    I know it won’t last forever – people get busy, things fall apart, we’ll all find other things to do with our time – but for now it’s a wonderful, enjoyable way to spend time with my friends.
    My gnomish rogue says hi. And suggests adding “Don’t be a little bitch” as rule 2. You should probably ignore her.

  16. I have that since 2006, when I moved from where I studied.
    Had a weekly gaming group where we originaly started with RPGs but also played board games and what ever we could get and since then haven’t managed to find something to replace that.
    Was also the base group of ppl, with whom we were able to kick off an awesome winter-een-mas, having a lot of non-nerds joining in running an SNES, PS2, xbox (each on their on TV), two Gamebody advanced in one appartment.
    I miss those times …

  17. Kinda made me cry. I’ve had a complete upset since July in my gaming schedule due to my work schedule, that is SUPPOSED to be temporary.
    I honestly did not realize how important the bi-weekly gaming sessions were to me until I lost them. Every other week I silently shed a tear as my husband leaves for the game.
    He’s currently running a Savage Worlds game and though I started out trying to play I just couldn’t stay awake.

  18. My partner and I drive 3 hours 1 way once a month so his high school buddies can get their d&d fix (they all graduated in the early 80’s.
    Fortunately, we don’t have a problem getting people to play. My son-in-law owns one of the 2 game stores in town and my daughter-in-law works at the other one. AND, we have a regular Tuesday night board game group. Life is good.

  19. at home after a looooooong day at work and now sitting around with a bunch of mates as they play “Era of Inventions” even not directly playing, the banter, the smack talk and the general comraderie is the great appeal for boardgames i think – in a time where virtual relationships and digital experiences are the norm, its nice to sit around a table, moving tiny multi-coloured wooden blocks around a board. also isnt it still fun to shout “who’s got wood?!” in Catan?? yes, i am 12 on the inside:)

  20. Wil, I, too, understand what you feel.
    A few years after high school (early 1980s!) I used to game with some friends. Then things dropped off. Fast forward ten years or so and I re-grouped with a close friend and some friends of his. We actually had the privilege of play-testing a number of collectible card games, an attempt at an “instant” role paying game, and one board game. Let me tell you: Play testing really tests your creativity and concentration. It was fun – but we also had a job to do. Unfortunately, everyone moved and now I haven’t found a new group. Yikes! It’s been another ten years or so.
    I was the least experienced one in the group and if I joined another, I’d probably be “that annoying new guy”. At 52, I’d also end up old enough to be most of those kids’ father(judging by the kids I see playing at the local game store).
    What’s a old gray-haired Geek-wanna-be to do?

  21. Hey, Wil.
    For exactly the same reasons you so eloquently outlined above, my circle of peeps solemnly pledged three years ago that Wednesdays will henceforth be known as the Unwavering Night of Wanton Board-Gamery. Spouses, kids and other commitments now know that nothing shall keep us from our appointed evening of dice-chuckage and/or card-floppery.
    And I’m so glad we did. We now posses a whole new batch of gaming memories to compliment the childhood classics.
    Tonight on tap: Cosmic Encounter
    P.S. If you ever want to see how the origin of your gaming career compares to mine, feel free to read this whenever you get the chance…
    Game on, brotha!

  22. My husband and his buddies play at least once a week. I think it’s just about the only thing that keeps him sane. Anytime you are in Chicago, you are welcome to join them!

  23. I’m a long time D&D DM and gamer. I’m also a member of Eternal Vigilance, a premier multigaming guild.
    We work hard to make our gaming community great, and each of the major games we play have their own divisions in the guild (a bit like the military). This year, I put a lot of work into my proposal strategy and successfully launched the Virtual Table RPG division.
    We’re doing great with 4 campaigns from various settings and game systems set to start in mid January, using the Wizards of the Coast Virtual Table software you might be familiar with.
    If you’re keen to play quality games of D&D with a great bunch of people online, feel free to drop by the forum and take a look around. No pressure! :)

  24. While I don’t play physical games, I’ve been playing a written RPG online with several of my friends for the last thirteen years or so. It was so easy when we were kids and were able to just log on and spend countless hours writing out scenarios or plotting future stories. Now that we’re all “grown up” it actually takes time to commit to playing. We’ve lost several friends along the way and over the last year we’ve had several moves, two pregnancies, college, marriages, jobs, etc.
    I honestly hope that we’ll all still be playing together ten years from now, because I know that it’s a necessary part of my life. I totally get how you feel. It’s not just a game. It’s a creative outlet and a very important social network.

  25. We get together with our next door neighbors once a month or so for some Catan and I was horrified to find they insist on referring to the resource as wool.
    I think their resolve is breaking…

  26. My family would spend Saturday nights on epic marathons of Trivial Pursuit (well, it was the 1980s) and Mah Jongg. We made the mistake of introducing my mother to Setters of Catan. Now, whenever we go and visit, the suitcases haven’t even hit the floor before she’s rolling those first dice and telling us to hurry up and play.
    And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

  27. We’re doing a gift exchange, similar to a “White Elephant” but with useful stuff. I chose games – lets see who ends up with them (maybe me!). At my house growing up not one weekend passed where we didn’t play one game or another and in college we had friends that had game parties (they still do but they’re in Maryland and we’re in NJ and with kids the logistics of driving down for a game night– well). I really miss it. You really get to know your family and friends when you spend hours playing.
    And I’m VERY competitive — which most people don’t realize until we play.
    Looking forward to January, when I get to visit my family in PR and spend hours at playing Dominos –they are merciless.

  28. My husband and I have had a standing Saturday night get-together with our friends, their spouses, and as life has progressed, the kids. It’s mostly MtG but we also play a lot of board games and non-MtG card games. D&D campaigns have fallen apart but for 2012 we are looking to put together a campaign where people can rotate characters if someone can’t show up, so the game doesn’t stall out if a player can’t make it (honestly I don’t know why they didn’t do this earlier…).

  29. I’m the oddball in this group, never have done RPG, etc (don’t hate me please). BUT, I come from a family who’s motto is: The family that plays together stays together. Our play was mostly outdoor play. We skied together, we spent time in the yard, frisbee, kites, throwing a ball (no boy children, so we girls learned how to throw!), etc. Trivial Pursuit, Life and Backgammon were also important. I live in the sub-Arctic now, and still try to keep the play important in our family life. As solstice nears and we have only a few hours of daylight, the board games are calling out to us. I think we’ll have to enjoy a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders tomorrow night with our daughter.

  30. I moved to Portland, OR after college. My mother and brother (the ones I played games with growing up) stayed in Florida. About a month and a half ago, they came to visit me on the West Coast. We had fun, I played tour guide and told them secrets of Portland (Best fudge in town? At the zoo. No seriously.) But the highlight of the visit was when we all sat down in my tiny apartment and played a game of Parcheesi.
    Good-natured taunts, short alliances and more laughter than the whole rest of their trip. I didn’t even realize how long it had been since I played a game with another person until I played with them. It made me all wibbly inside, even now just recalling how amazingly fun it was and how home didn’t feel so far away for a hour or so.

  31. My family loves board games – every holiday, my mom buys us a new game and we break it out after the big dinner(as Italians, no matter the holiday, there is ALWAYS a Big Dinner). But no mattter what the newest thing is, we always go under the stairs in the garage, where the spider webs and dust collect thick like cotton candy, and pull out our favorites from years past: Song Burst, Pictionary, Scattegories, BuzzWord, and so many others. We drink excessively, fight over marginal answers, and feast on leftovers, munchies, and dessert throughout the night. We’ve lost some players over the years, but every time we brush the dust off another box and see the familiar contents, it causes a wave of nostalgia and a slew of stories about the times we played. I love games.

  32. My history with gaming has been a convoluted one, but is trending positive. As a kid/high schooler, I didn’t have a gaming system, beyond a few computer things. So when I hung out with some of the kids of my parents’ friends, I ended up getting teased for being bad at it. I let this get to me and gave up on gaming.
    In college, I decided to try out D&D instead and had several lovely years with that. But then we graduated and my group moved to Seattle. We’ve tried a bit of gaming online since, but it’s hard.
    Just in the last year, I suddenly discovered that some local acquaintances were really into games like Settlers and Ticket to Ride. I bought Munchkin Cthulhu and we play that together too. As a bonus, we also discovered we love Doctor Who and BSG and other geeky television. Suddenly, there are gaming nights and Who-watching parties in my schedule.
    Over the summer, I started gaming on Steam–Cthulhu Saves the World, Portal, Torchlight, Dungeon Defenders…and hopefully Portal 2 later this week. At 26, I’m gaming more than I ever have in my life and loving it.

  33. Well said and straight from the CPU, good sir. This year for the holidays my entire family is getting together for the first time in a few years and no doubt there will be some serious playing of video games amongst my three brothers and myself. Many years ago in the 80s I was given the honorary title of “Nintendo Master” by some of our friends and despite my numerous attempts at retirement…I am continually called out to play some new game when I visit my family.
    For a guy who still feels that the Zelda series peaked with the 3rd game…I’ve ended up finishing the last few installments on those newfangled consoles after my brother and his wife gave up and insisted that I use this supposed legendary skill of mine to beat the games (what can I say, they ended up being right). But I think I am going to throw down the mithril gauntlet with Skyward Sword (riding on birds just isn’t very fun to me)…
    I recall some years ago when one of my brothers friends brought over a game for the Dreamcast and said that he’d been playing it for weeks/months and still hadn’t beaten it. Again, I was talked into giving it a shot, and after an hour or two when we watched the ending credits…his friend just stared at me, asking if I’d played the game before. I had to be honest and state that I had not…never owned a Dreamcast either. Then my brother said “they used to call him the Nintendo Master you know”…ack…will I never be able to escape this insipid title?
    Maybe its not such a bad thing though…as I do kind of enjoy retaking my throne from time to time. And playing some old school NES games with all of my brothers…well that will be pure magic…pure magic indeed, 😉

  34. One word: DESCENT!
    For good old fashioned boardgaming- meaning meatspace, eye-to-eye, death-to-the-loser fun- allow me to suggest Descent, KING OF ALL GAMES!
    Seriously, best game ever. One of you (meaning me) is the Overlord, trying his best to bring peace and love through the application of delightful monster hugs, and the other players are treasure-thieving home invaders. Booo.
    You can also get campaign expansions that let you play across an entire continent, instead of one dungeon per game. The latest one is called Sea of Blood, and features ship to ship combat. Or ship to Leviathan combat, which is much quicker.
    Seriously, though. Give it a try.

  35. Sigh. I really don't like Descent. I want to; I really want to… but the winner is always clear in the first 30 minutes, and then you have another 3 hours to go (at least). If we're going to spend that much time on a game, I'd rather just play an RPG.

  36. *sticking fingers in ears* LALALALALALAAAA!
    Okay, no Descent. My second fav is Space Alert:
    I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s a co-op game full of cursing and finger-pointing at your crewmates, and more often than not, explosive decompression.
    BUT! There’s a Star Trek app for this thing that replaces the included audio CD with a Trek flavored one.
    Can you ask for more than that?

  37. I feel the same way. I grew up constantly playing card games with my parents. From there I got into D&D and console gaming from highschool friends. Board games didn’t really start until I met my now husband. When I met his parent’s for the first time we played Settlers of Catan, a game I had never heard of. Of course from then on I was hooked.
    We now own our own lovely collection of board games that we never play as much as we’d like. Our friends aren’t all that into them, so for the most part they collect dust on our shelves. A perk to going to my husband’s parent’s for Christmas is that we get to indulge in Settlers and Ticket to Ride. Hopefully we’ll get sick of them by the end of our week there and not be too sad about going a couple more months without playing them.

  38. Did you ever consider coming to ESSEN, Germany and visit the biggest gaming convention in the world???
    Exhibitors include authors and publishers from all over the world (e.g. Canada and Japan)
    It also has a part called “Comic Action”, where you can see young artists at work.
    In total it’s 4 days of fun and gaming, because almost every booth offers one or more games to play right there.
    As a huge Discworld-fan for me this year’s highlight of course is Treefrog’s “Discworld” by Martin Wallace. :-)
    If you ever come to Germany in October, you just have to schedule your stay so that it includes a visit of the “SPIEL”…!
    If you do and happen to need a guide of some sort or someone to play with, just let me know… 😉

  39. My sister and BIL just acquired Solarquest at a co-op. We played last weekend and she totally kicked our butts. I’ve been jonesing to play again all week so they’re coming back over this weekend. I’ve never been a huge Monopoly fan, but if you add space nerdiness (red shift cards!), I’m there! Also, my family is totally addicted to Trivial Pursuit and card games, especially canasta. Games rule!

  40. No further back than 10 months ago I used to game once every week at the verry least. My group of friends that I have known since highschool got together, played tabletop RPGs, ate snacks and drank beer. A weekly ritual that has been going on for 15 years (not the beer, obviously).
    Then I had a daughter. She is the light of my life and I will never regret her in any way. And yet, she takes up so much of my energy and time that I haven’t sat down to roll dice since her birth and I have the itch take me now and then. The problem is that I still get invitations and the back and forth emails from game nights and I can’t participate.
    One day I’ll get to play again and, hopefully, one day I’ll get to play again with my daughter. I hope she will be able to enjoy what has been part of half of my living years.
    Untill then, I’ll just pick up my books from time to time and flip through untill I can go back to adventuring with my friends. I miss it but being a dad is just too important and fulfiling right now. It can wait a while longer.

  41. When my husband and I moved down to Austin from MA, we stopped gaming consistently (unless you count him playing CoH and us both playing WoW eventually), mostly because of grad school and learning a new city.
    Now, even though we have a new baby (he’s six months old. one of his FAVORITE toys is the Chibithulhu we bought him last weekend. We are so proud), we are finally playing D&D again. It’s so nice!

  42. Hi Wil
    Great thread. Personally, I take a double hit. Not only are my opportunities to sit with friends to play dwindling (which is sad), but when I do hit the table, it is often playtesting one of our upcoming games (Smirk and Dagger). And while I LOVE doing it, there are times I just want to hang out and dig deep into my game closet! I haven’t played Wiz-War in forever!
    Incidentally, having read your recent game night list, I can see we are of similar tastes. My guess is that you’d probably appreciate our game, Cutthroat Caverns. If you don’t already own a copy, let me know at [email protected] and I’ll get you one.

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