Your Move Feb 1, 2012

by Rick Rader, MD

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was an avid chess player who obviously got his clock cleaned (frequently) by many superior opponents. In fact, he mused, "Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time." Idle people indeed. Idle people like Isaac Asimov, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sir Francis Bacon, Catherine the Great, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin.All avid chess players. Idle indeed.

The game of Chess, believed to be over 2000years old, has quite the following. In fact, the way we live our "lives" is often been compared to a game of chess. We often feel like "pawns,"being moved around by "rulers" (Kings and Queens) and never seem to be able to strategize more than one or two moves ahead. Many of us are made to feel like we could be quickly sacrificed to enable another to obtain a better board position. We are usually one move away from being tipped over and removed from the playing field. Things are often seen as simply black or white. We're simply waiting for the sound of"checkmate" to end it all. But still we play.

And it's not just chess. Humans love boardgames, and it seems as if they have alwaysbeen part of the human affinity. The gameSenet is one of the oldest known board gamesin the world. We have hieroglyphics demonstratingthe game going back to around 3100BC in ancient Egypt. The game has been foundin tombs indicating that it was a kind of talismanfor the journey of the dead. You reallyhave to love the game to remember to pack itfor that trip.

The game of Go, originating in ancientChina is the most popular game in Asia. Thenumber of Go players worldwide approachesthirty million. It is considered one of the mostdifficult board games in the world. The rulesare easy; the requisite strategy is mind blowing.One description of the game was enoughfor me to realize my comfort level was morecheckers than Go. "Players strive to serve bothdefensive and offensivepurposes and choosebetween tacticalurgency and strategicplans. At its basic, thegame is one of simplelogic, while in advancedplay the game involvescomplex heuristics andtactical analysis." Signme up for checkers.

Board games are enjoying incredible growthin popularity. According to reporter RachaelBogert, "During bad economic times, boardgames and the family game night start to makea whole lot of sense as a way to entertain everybodyon the cheap. In other words, when timesare lean, we're stuck with each other, so wemight as well have some fun while we're at it."

Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 there was an almost universal need (at least inAmerica) to "connect" and "cocoon," twodynamics that have "board games at home"written all over them.

Michael Mindes, a board game designer, offerssome emotional reasons for playing board games."Board games create a framework within which wecan interact with our friends in a friendly competition. Board games require us to think, experiment,and otherwise exercise our minds. They provide usa way to escape from our current lives. They providea desired experience that we cannot obtain in reallife. Board games provide an easy way to have funwith family and friends in a personal way. It is not aspersonal as direct conversation or sports, but it is significantlymore personal than watching a movie, television,or playing video games."

Most board games involve both luck andstrategy, two elements coveted by every exceptionalparent. Another vital component in someboard games is "diplomacy," players makingdeals with each other. Again, a skill honed bymany exceptional parents.

Board games that would be most familiar toexceptional parents include Monopoly, Risk,Scrabble, Battleship, Backgammon, Sorry!, Clue,Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. The verynames of some of these games resonate withparents of children with special needs. Theyhave heard "Sorry" all too many times, havebeen forced to take a "Risk," are always searchingfor "Clues," and wish they didn't encountersystems that seem to have a "Monopoly" onindifference, ineptitude and ignorance.

Of the list, the game that should have a considerablelegacy to exceptional parents is CandyLand. First marketed in 1949 as a "sweet littlegame for sweet little folks," Candy Land rose fromthe terrifying polio epidemic of the mid-twentiethcentury. Writing in the American Journal ofPlay, Susan Trien reports, "Schoolteacher EleanorAbbott invented Candy Land in 1948 while recuperatingin a polio ward in San Diego. Seeking tohelp children allay the tedium of the ward, hersimple, undemanding game required only thatthe players be able to recognize colors and count,and could be easily played without adult supervisionin the bustling hospital ward. In this openended,looping game, the Cherry Pits andMolasses Swamp act as gentle delays, prolongingthe game's ending and making it an ideal way tokeep children quiet and happy. One of the earliestCandy Land boards, in fact, appears to have apicture of a child in a leg brace, a detail that disappearedin subsequent printings. The 1950spolio scare produced parental panic—swimmingpools emptied, parks cleared out, civic eventswere deserted. People stayed away from crowds.And parents kept kids indoors. Frightened parentsseeking to prevent their children's exposuremay have seized upon the game as an indooralternative to the dangers lurking outside."

Keeping children with disabilities from the"dangers lurking outside" is a full time job forexceptional parents, and it's far from a game. Thereality is that you cannot keep children inside orsafe from danger. And while board games aregreat diversions, there comes a time when youhave to lay down the dice and move your piecesahead. No one ever promised you that this was"Candy Land." But no one ever accused exceptionalparents of being "idle game players."

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