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.
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.