Remember the Time…

Posted on Sep 20 2012 by pomomojo in Board Games


I belong to two different gaming groups plus I play games with my children, my wife, and even solo. I also attend a couple game conventions each year where I can squeeze in several games each day. With all this gaming, and with my brain only getting older, individual plays can soon blend together into an indistinct memory of whether I liked a game or not. One solution to help keep memories of enjoyable game experiences in tact is to play games that offer the possibility of a narrative.

The joy of narrative and its benefit as a mnemonic device, are one reason why thematic games have risen in popularity in the past two decades. Some games literally allow the players to take part in a story as they take on the roles of characters and go on predetermined quests written out with flair on cards or on paper. But even games that lack such a fantasy element can create a memorable narrative moment that players can recall for years to come. There are a few different ways these narratives can be created:

1) Individualization – It’s harder to remember a particular move in a game of Checkers because each checker looks the same. But you might remember the time you sacrificed your queen in a game of Chess so that your rooks could move into checkmate. Even though the names of the properties in Monopoly have little meaning, the fact that they are named allows us to remember particular games.

2) Surprise – I own many games with deep gameplay that I really enjoy, yet the fact that each game generally goes how I expect it to makes it more difficult to remember any individual play. Games where something unusual or improbable can happen can be very memorable. Here is where gambling games often get their narrative. Part of the popularity of Poker surely has to do with the narrative that develops over the flip of a single card. One player only has a single out and they manage to get the card they need to take the pot. Thrilling. Dice also help to fulfill this condition in many games. Rolling the perfect number in Monopoly to skip through a string of hotels without having to pay is memorable. Rolling doubles in Backgammon that allow you to bear off the last four checkers might be pure luck, but it’s also something you’ll be unlikely to forget because you only had a 1 in 36 chance of seeing it happen.

3) High Stakes – Just like a good book or movie where the plot takes you on a ride until reaching the exciting climax, a game with a narrative will have a high point where you are deeply invested in an outcome. Again, gambling succeeds well here. Put a million dollars on a roll of the Roulette wheel or the flip of a card and you will likely remember each second. We can see something similar, though, in the recent trend of pitting powerful computers against chess masters. But even in game mechanisms can give a similar rush of adrenaline. Scrabble might not seem an exciting game, but were I ever to lay down one of the five words capable of scoring 392 points, that moment would live forever in my mind.

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