Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oh, the games we played

The other day, I eavesdropped on a conversation between some gen-x’ers in which they extolled the value of video games. They went on and on about how well they developed their eye-to-hand coordination. Yup, they were all masters at using switches and knobs to manipulate objects in a virtual world! “Yeah, yeah” I thought, “but can you control real objects in the real world?” My guess is not so much. To me, the feel of a video game is not the same as the real world.

My sister was a Zen Master of jacks. She spent hours sitting in the corner of the living room, just off the edge of the rug, bouncing the ball off the hardwood floor and scooping up jacks. She started with “onesies” and “twosies” increasing the size of each scoop until she ran all the way to scooping the entire set of jacks with one bounce of the ball. She was so good at it that she did not hesitate to bounce the ball for the next scoop; she was able to plan the following scoop in stride. Often she would run all the way to “tensies” without missing and having to start over again. She always won games played with the other neighborhood girls.

Now my brother and I were the marble whizzes in the family. We played on both hard surfaces and dirt. The dynamics of the game were really different on each surface. The hard surface game was one of finesse and accuracy if you over powered the game, you spent most of the time collecting marbles that escaped the playing area than actually playing. The dirt based game was more of a power game; one had to really smack the target hard enough to move it from the circle. "Firing" a marble meant that we had to flick our shooter marble with our thumb from a stationary position with our knuckle resting on the ground outside the circle that was the active playing area. The goal was to knock a target marble out of the circle as well as our shooter. All marbles knocked out of the circle became the possession of the player doing the shooting. If the shooter failed to exit the playing area, it was lost and became one of the targets. Losing one’s shooter was a potential catastrophe as the next player in the game would often target the lost shooter in an attempt to take it as a trophy.

Each of us had one or more special shooter marbles. They were special for several reasons; rare color, density or composition. Most of my shooters were “steelies” coming to my collection as former ball bearings usually retired from one of the airplanes at nearby Jacksonville Naval Air Station or Cecil Field. My most prized shooter had a provenance as having come from a Grumman F9F Cougar. I can tell you that shooter saw very little actual play because of its sentimental value. Later in life, as a Navy Midshipman I had the chance to fly an F9F out of Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in the summer of 1965. As I did my pre-flight, I wondered if my old shooter marble once flew in the same airframe that I was about to ride. Life has a funny way of coming around in circles.

There were other games we played back in the day that I don’t see being played so much these days. Hopscotch is one of the games girls used to play. I must admit that I would try my hand at hopscotch once or twice after checking to see that none of my buddies were around to see. It was interesting, and required some skill and agility but it was manageable. Jump rope was another girl game that I tried but never mastered. Instead we “he-men” boys played the more manly baseball and football. Now those were games that we could play with pride. As I write this, I have an ironic smile on my face as I just remembered that football players use a rubber tire based version of hopscotch as an agility drill and boxers use jump rope to build up their agility and stamina. Another pair of long held icons of “manliness” lost forever.

I used to hate it when my elders pointed out that the “old ways” were better than the latest fad; but because our childhood games required more physicality such as getting up and down to line-up our next shot, I believe that marbles and the other games of our childhood were a better way to develop eye-to-hand coordination than video games. Goodness, now I sound like my father. Oh MY!

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