What Nana Taught Me About Gaming

Posted on September 4, 2014

While Chess was for Grandad, Nana’s game was Checkers. These two games are worlds apart. Sure, Checkers is still highly strategic (or rather, tactical), it has a winner and a loser, and its pretty low-tech. But it is much simpler (not to say easier), shorter, easier to learn, and probably more amenable to a young child’s fragile sense of self. Kathleen Ann Crout was an extraordinarily compassionate individual, with a deep love for family members and our pets.

Nana was the warmest  lover of animals I ever knew

Nana was the warmest lover of animals I ever knew

I think on reflection that Nana used to watch Grandad destroy us mercilessly at Chess, and then offer us a game of Checkers in quiet recompense. I think it was no coincidence that while I always felt like an amateur at Chess, playing Checkers gave me a sense of amazing power and aptitude: I learned what it was like to win. After kinging myself and taking about six pieces, Nana would exclaim in mock resignation, ‘You’ve done me like a dog’s dinner!’ Yeah, I rocked that game.

Harry and Kathleen Crout at Christmas

Christmas was always an important time for the family, and a really enjoyable day, every time

Of course, I never knew until later that she was obviously letting me win. This is part of the gentle ignorance of life’s realities that children are blessed with, yet when I figured out later the truth of the situation it was with a warm remembrance, not a sense of crushing disillusion. I guess it was a real gratitude for the balance that Nana made possible in my early gaming experiences.

I learned some very different lessons from playing Checkers with Nana, but they were nonetheless important. They included:

  • Winning feels great. No matter how much learning benefit there might be from losing, winning just feels good. It’s definitely worth being in the game and doing your best to shoot for that goal.
  • Letting others win is an act of compassion. Nana’s huge heart and love was on her sleeve when she played us in Checkers: of course she let us win, because she knew that everyone needs a win now and again. She never let us know though.
  • All games are great. Chess might consider itself the master race of board games, but Checkers can be just as fulfilling and rewarding. Same goes for other games: who cares what it is, as long as you have a great time.
  • It’s all about fun and social interaction. The game, winning, losing, the rules: none of this is as important as having fun (or enjoying the seriousness) and connecting with others through games.

Checkers was the yin to the raging yang of Chess in my education as a young gamer. It’s not that Grandad was harsh or uncaring; he was just hard as diamond and he gave us an experience of gaming that reflected all his complex facets. And Nana wasn’t the saviour of our emotional health, bandaging up the scars left by a gruelling experience of continual loss. It was just two sides of the same coin.

Chad Habel and his beloved Nana

Can you see a future Game Trucker in this picture?

So the developing Gamer’s Manifesto also needs a softer side: something about gracefully losing against a weaker component; about ensuring that those you play with have a great time. That backing off and allowing a younger or weaker player to get ahead is an act of compassion that selflessly nurtures your opponent without a care for ego, pride, will or the scoreboard. That if gaming is life, it can embody all the complexities of love and human relationships that manifest themselves in vastly different personalities.

I don’t really remember my last game of Checkers with Nana, but they all helped make me a deeply human person.


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