1/20/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Remember board games? And not board games recreated to be played on a screen, but actually lifted from a box, the “board” magically unfolded, pieces chosen and placed, cards shuffled, dice rolled to see who goes first.

So here’s the thing. First, for the last two years, I have been totally enamored of, not a board game, but a video game on Nintendo Switch. Animal Crossing. I’ve written about this game before. When the pandemic started and I was a nervous wreck, a friend who I’ve known since she went to school with my big kids told me I needed to play Animal Crossing. “It’s getting me through,” she said. My middle son, Andy, who also played, said he would buy the system and the game for me. I’d played Animal Crossing before, when it was on the GameCube and when it was on the Wii, and even when I had, for a while, the handheld Nintendo DS. In each case, there were other games bought for the system, but the only one I played faithfully was Animal Crossing.

This time, I’ve been playing it for two years. And I haven’t lost interest.

Right before my 61st birthday, my son posted on our Animal Crossing Facebook chat. “Look!” he said. He showed us a photo of a board game – Animal Crossing Monopoly.

Which shot me backwards in time.

My first passion with a game was dominoes. And that was largely because of a set that I won. I was living in Stoughton, Wisconsin, and I was about twelve or thirteen years old. My friend Lisa and I heard that across Lake Kegonsa, there was a “fisheree” going on. An ice-fishing competition, but complete with games and prizes for children. Did we think to ask our parents to drive us there? No – we chose to walk across Lake Kegonsa, something which horrifies me now as a mom. By the time we got there, we were nearly frozen, despite wearing snowpants, boots, winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves. We ducked into a tent with a heater and attempted to thaw before we checked out the games. Among other things, there was a short race, where you ran back and forth, carrying an egg on a spoon, and the winner was the person who had the most eggs in their containers. I won. When I looked over the prizes, I saw a beautiful dominoes set. Each of the numbered dominoes had a different brilliant neon color. I selected it, brought it home back across the frozen lake, and still own it today.

My first husband and I loved board games. We often preferred to spend our Friday and Saturday nights at home, different boards spread out on our kitchen table, playing until late into the night. I loved Monopoly the best, and was wicked with it. He loved Risk, which I couldn’t stand, but the one time I played him, learning along the way, I beat him soundly. He never asked to play with me again.

With the dawn of the video game era, we resisted buying our kids the first Nintendo system, but finally capitulated with rules that they could only play for so much time every day. Until their father and I joined in and got hooked. One of my first published pieces, appearing in the Wisconsin magazine of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was how we convinced the kids it would be so much fun to play in the new fallen snow, and as soon as they were in the back yard, my husband and I were parked in front of the television set.

And now, years later…Animal Crossing Monopoly. My most loved board game. My most loved video game. Together.

“I want it,” I said.

My son gave it to me for my birthday.

It’s a bizarre game, not like Monopoly at all, and really, not like Animal Crossing at all either. Yes, there are cards and figures and dice and a “Go To Jail” square, but that’s pretty much where any similarities end. It’s goofy…but it’s FUN.

Last Saturday, after we decided we weren’t going to go out for our usual Saturday evening restaurant meal, preferring to hunker down inside due to the Omicron variant, I quickly called my son. “When are you off work?” I asked. “Are you up for pizza and Animal Crossing?”

He was. And not only was he up for it, but he brought along a delicious cherry pie; he’s the manager of a bakery and has access to such things!

We put a different spin on the game-playing this time, though. We’ve always played in the kitchen here, which is awkward. We don’t have a kitchen table; we eat at the island, which has only 3 barstools. There are always four of us for this activity; Michael, me, Andy, and Olivia.  We typically pull out a stepladder for someone to sit on for this event, which isn’t very comfortable.

But on this night, I had a thought. “My classroom is downstairs,” I said. “Why not play there? On the big table?”

Duh.

But I realized, as we played, what moving to the classroom did for us. It turned back time to when the board game truly was the focus. As we played, there were no screens around us. No television, no computers. Yes, we had our cell phones, but those went almost completely ignored as we bent over the board and took our turns and counted our money and made our choices. We ate pie and drank good coffee, we rolled dice and flipped cards and counted out loud as we moved our little players. And we laughed.

So much laughter!

After we returned upstairs, Michael said, “That was so much fun!”

It was. And you can bet we’ll be doing it again, down in the classroom. Down there, only the game – and each other – are our focus.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Animal Crossing Monopoly. My game!
This is my character on Animal Crossing. In the coffee shop, of course.

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