Last week I went on vacation to Bethany Beach, Delaware, a long coastal strip of wind-whipped sand, countless beach houses and crisp blue waves. There, 99% of my time was spent tanning, swimming, eating damn good seafood and posting on social media outlets about tanning, swimming and eating damn good seafood. In the hour or two that made up that remaining 1%, I found myself playing board and card games with my siblings and cousins.
The list of games we played isn’t all too impressive: we played the card game B.S., got halfway through a 1000-piece puzzle made up solely of cats and flowers and of course we did the obligatory round of Monopoly (which I won, thank you very much). Like I said, these activities made up only an hour or two of the entire week I spent down in Delaware, but I remember almost every detail of those game sessions despite not having chronicled the experience via text or the Internet.
Some of the memorable moments during those times seem pretty typical, like the glorious instant when I bankrupted my 11-year-old cousin and forced him to give me Boardwalk. But others are not as straightforward — like the fake laugh one cousin would make to throw us off her scent in a card game and the faint, embarrassed smile that would lift the corners of her mouth and give her away for real.
This stuff all seems to be part of some good old mushy gushy family bonding, but board and card games have an impact beyond that. At home, my friends and I are obsessed with Settlers of Catan, a strategic settlement game vaguely similar to Monopoly. In both instances, these games are capable of shaping and defining our interactions in a largely underestimated way.
If you stop to really think about everything you can learn just by doing a puzzle with someone or playing against him in a board game, the possibilities become pretty astounding.
Again, there’s some obvious answers that get thrown in about the advantages of board games — they’re all about strategy and making you think more deeply than you do when reading those one-click viral stories on the Internet or surfing through your TV channels. In order to win, you’ve got to prioritize long- and short-term goals just the right way while remembering that chance will either be your worst enemy or your best friend.
Apart from all that good brain food, what I’m most fascinated by every time I play a game like Monopoly is how much you glean about the social behavior of your friends and family, and in turn what you learn about the way you’re perceived by others.
Board and card games are built not just to make everyone think but also to make you aware of how everyone’s thinking. A lot of this you draw from features in the games themselves — how patient or daring someone is with his money and pieces and how he barters with other players. It’s easy to separate the impulsive, short-term-oriented players relying on the chance flow of the game from the more calculating ones who are in it for the long haul and who have thought up a plan right from the first dice roll.
What’s harder to recognize are the equally important signs that arise between turns, when everyone nowadays has his head turned back to his iPhone. If you stop looking down and keep your mind in the game instead, you’ll pick up on a whole lot more social cues that aren’t so direct and that will give you an edge, not only in a fake scenario like Monopoly but also in real-life social settings when your ability to gauge the people in the room actually matters.
When you stop glancing to check your own Instagram or reply to a text, you’ll start to notice which players are doing exactly what you were just doing and which ones have their eyes glued to the board. Who’s got something to lose? Who’s excitedly edging up on their chair or absentmindedly scrolling through their texts? Who’s shaking their leg and biting their nails? Is he on the verge of failing or is he waiting to make a power play? Why is she so nervous? What if his scheme depended on everyone else obliviously getting through turns without stirring up the status quo?
What if you not only recognized what was going on but also took the initiative and ended up changing the game? Wouldn’t that be more memorable than skating by with half your mind floating somewhere else?
A lot of these behavioral signals you might think you already pick up on anyway, and it’s just a board game, so how much does this mumbo jumbo really matter in the end?
We live in an era where social interactions through the Internet seem almost instant, when in fact they’re really all delayed. We craft the best version of our experiences and hand-pick the emotions we show to the world, throw on a filter and time it to be released at an optimal point in the day.
We make ourselves seem more extroverted when in reality we are becoming more introverted, because we are less adept at reading social cues in the present moment. It’s not that we don’t have the power to do so — it’s that we willingly choose not to pay them too much attention since we’ve all got iPhones anyhow and any social outing is a success if there’s a picture to brag about afterwards.
If you force yourself to acknowledge this process and step outside of it for just long enough to play even a simple board game, you’ll be able to study and shape your own social behavior in a way that impacts you here and now, not just an hour later when your next post goes up. So the next time you’re ready to turn down a long game of Monopoly for the umpteenth time, think twice about how you’ll be spending all that free time instead.
Hannah Kaufman is a rising junior in the College. Confessions of a Closet Geek appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.