What Grandad Taught Me About Gaming

Posted on July 31, 2014

My grandfather, Harry Crout, was the ultimate old-school gamer, although he never touched a video game in his life. When we visited our Nana and Grandad’s place, our main option for social interaction with Grandad was through games: in the shed he had a small pool table and dart board. He taught me to play both games and gave me skills that have served me well in pubs ever since. But his favourite game was Chess, and he taught all us cousins to play: it fell to me to learn at his hands at about the age of five.

Harry Scarborough Crout: a dapper lad from Yorkshire

Harry Scarborough Crout: a dapper lad from Yorkshire

Grandad once got to stalemate with the world Grandmaster at Chess, so the story goes. Apparently he was Russian: the Grandmaster, not Grandad. Who knows if the story was true, but it did do one thing: taught us what stalemate (or a draw) meant. This was a claim to fame: stalemate meant you didn’t let your opponent win: you had skills to match them, if not quite beat them. Grandad also taught us the pieces, basic moves and opening strategies, and the arcane knowledge of en passant.

Grandad was an intent, serious Chess player. His temples would throb with concentration; he ground his teeth; he brooked no interruption or small talk. Chess was life: it was serious, important, not a game for snotnosed kids. I loved playing Chess with Grandad, and from memory I stuck with it for long a time: it gave me a glimpse into an adult world of strategy and proud competition, and forged a type of intimacy with a man who was pretty guarded, an enigma to us kids. I learned some of the most important lessons about gaming from Grandad and Chess, such as:

  • Never let them win. No matter how young or inexperienced we were, Grandad never let us win; it wasn’t in his nature. This was real life, the adult world: he would demolish us repeatedly because that’s what Chess is.
  • Always take care. When we did one of those stupid, Queen-sacrificing moves, Grandad would cluck with disapproval and mutter, ‘Oh, that was careless’, before punishing the move without compunction.
  • You only learn by losing. I lost nearly every single game of Chess against Grandad, but I learnt a great deal about the game, myself and him in the process. I doubt he learned much by beating me.
  • Every game is a level playing field. No matter how many times you lose, each game starts anew: it’s a brand new chance for making something in the world. Chess is the great leveller: there is zero luck involved, and you only have yourself to blame if you lose.
  • It’s so much more than a game. Sure, it might be fun, it might be low-stakes, but it’s not just a game. This matters, because it’s life. You learn a kind of toughness that is so much more than just strength.

From these big lessons we might extract something like a Gamer’s Manifesto. It would say something about the value of gamespaces as a blueprint for life; gaming as a place to learn unlike anywhere else, a place to face unsurmountable challenges, a place to be the very best you can be. These are the life lessons that gaming has to offer kids of all ages.

I only beat Grandad at Chess once, and it was the last game I played against him. Although he lived for several years after that, my child’s mind perceived that I only gained the upper hand due to the beginning of the dementia that eventually overtook him. It was a sad day.

7 Replies to "What Grandad Taught Me About Gaming"

  • Kirrily Burton
    July 31, 2014 (1:07 pm)

    I love this post so much! Well done, a great story, a great legacy he left. He, Zi just learnt that chess hurts my head – too many shaft if scenarios :)

  • Kirrily Burton
    July 31, 2014 (1:08 pm)

    I should have proofread – doh! *I just learnt that chess hurts my head – too many what if scenarios*

    • Chad Habel
      August 10, 2014 (8:48 am)

      Haha, yes, the possibilities multiply exponentially the more moves you plan ahead. Sometimes you just gotta dive in and risk your queen ;)

  • Tom Bratchford
    August 3, 2014 (1:59 pm)

    Another reason gaming is great – it can build self-confidence and self-belief.

    We live in an increasingly ‘grey’ world, and while I firmly believe the world has never been black and white, many folk who, in previous generations, would have chosen to experience life in that manner are unable to do so as effectively, as they are unable to block information that doesn’t confirm with their existing worldview, in ways that were available to them in the past that were as simple as choosing which newspaper they would read.

    Back on point, more people having an increasingly ‘grey’ experience of life, means that in real life, ‘clean wins’ are harder to experience. By ‘clean wins’, I mean an occurrence that can only be viewed in a positive light… increased information flows mean that divergent opinions and experiences abound – what will be defined as a win by someone, will be defined as a loss by someone else.

    Gaming (whether video, board, card, or even sport) gives us the opportunity to participate in an environment with defined boundaries, such as time, space, rules, and goals, in which what is a win is (usually) clearly defined from the outset, giving us the opportunity to achieve much ‘cleaner’ wins than life, with it’s undefined goals, seemingly endless timeframe and shifting ruleset, can ever give us.

    The key is to take the confidence in your abilities that gaming can give you, and apply it to real world scenarios… easily said.

    • Chad Habel
      August 10, 2014 (8:46 am)

      Really good points there Tom, thanks for the comment. This puts me in mind of Jane McGonigal’s ideas about the ‘epic win’ and the value of ‘purposive action’. Her TED talk on this is one of my favourite things ever. I agree, as kids we need to feel like we can get a win every now and again, even if it’s in a sheltered zone or safe space.

      Check it out: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world

  • Meg Drechsler
    August 12, 2014 (10:54 pm)

    Beautiful post Chad. I feel a great deal of affection for your Grandad. Gaming as a safe place to lose and learn is a valuable perspective and something not seen enough in our current culture where often ‘every child wins a prize’. What a great prize he offered you in learning to lose! Meg

  • What Nana Taught Me About Gaming | Game Truck Australia
    September 4, 2014 (9:59 am)

    […] Chess was for Grandad, Nana’s game was Checkers. These two games are worlds apart. Sure, Checkers is still highly […]

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