WuToWu #43: The Games We Play

Hi Jessica,

School is in full swing, and now that I’m back in Boston, I think it’s time to get the ole’ WuToWu machine going again.

I’ve had lots of fun meeting up with Boston friends and catching up on what they were up to this summer. It can be difficult to figure out a meeting place, though, because Cambridge has notoriously bad parking and I don’t like to wait at restaurants for other people. Therefore, when I wanted to meet up with a friend, I asked him to meet me by Au Bon Pain by the Smith Center, which is soon going to be replaced by an actual student center.

Anyways, as I was sitting outside facing Massachusetts Avenue, I started taking notice of the men who played chess at the table chessboards. There seemed to be a loose communal friendship among them as they went through the rituals involved in a chess game. They bantered as they threw the pieces across the board, setting pawns and knights and queens up for yet another game. As the game progressed, the slap of the chess clock was accompanied by various tics: one tended to arrange his hands around his face, one on his chin, the other cocked so that his fingertips rested on his left temple. Black bounced his leg lightly as he contemplated his moves.

At the adjacent table, a game had just finished, and the loser stood up with a cheerily resigned face that said, “Yep, I lost to him again,” as he walked over to his waiting friends, who were also discussing the finer points of chess. His place was taken by a young boy, whose legs dangled from the seat. His friend and his mother stood behind him as the game started. The winner from last game tried to bait the Fool’s Mate, but after the boy avoided that first pitfall, the game took an interesting turn, drawing the attention of the men at the other tables. Two of them paused their game to watch.

Although I never got to see the end of that game, I was struck by the strange connection I saw between chess and video games. Both serve as a conduit for friendships, competition, competitive friendships, and friendly competition. Both have a somewhat esoteric language which fosters a sense of exclusivity. There is one enormously significant difference between chess and video games, which is time. Chess has been around for a long time and has gained a sense of sophistication that video games, even very good video games, lack.

At one point, chess probably occupied a similar territory to video games: a popular form of casual entertainment. But as time went by, strategies were formalized and characters were created, people like Bobby Fischer, Alexander Alekhine, Jose Capablanca, and Gary Kasparov. I don’t know if the same thing will happen with video games. I think the abstract nature of chess actually increases its longevity, because, unlike many video games, its game play doesn’t rely as heavily on a simulated reality. It’s also difficult for video game players to gain lasting fame when success depends on fast-twitch reflexes that quickly decline with age. However, it is entirely possible that video games will become more like interactive stories than competitive games, thereby securing their place in the future.

Anyways, I had fun getting dinner with my friend at Mr. Bartley’s, and am having fun in class. Good luck with APUSH!



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