Bulldogs on Board: We Do This Together


When I learned that the theme for this year’s Field Day, May 5, 2018, was board games from years past, I was struck by the number of ways in which that choice is apt.  Field Day is, as an ongoing institution, a “family tradition.”   I will monopoly boardspare you the historical details here, but we have been meeting as a community of families on the first Saturday in May for a very long time.  And very few American traditions conjure the notion of family more than a game of Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, or Parcheesi, or perhaps in later childhood, Clue or Monopoly.

The sale of board games has exploded worldwide, topping $9.6 billion in 2016.  In the last year Amazon’s revenue increased 15% in this category as well.  Some of this increase is due to new games from the recent past such as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, but most is the result of the rediscovery by millennials of the old line of Parker Brothers and Hasbro products.  In an era of on-line video gaming, this is a phenomenon worth exploring.

The first thing that occurs to me is that in sitting around a square board, facing siblings and friends, or perhaps even a parent, each player has nowhere to hide.  I can remember that one of my dearest childhood friends used to hide his $500 bills under his side of the Monopoly board when he thought no one was looking.  The strategy, obviously, was to fool the rest of us into thinking he was “land poor,” and would be more willing to sell property for needed cash.  Upon discovery he would be pilloried by the rest of us, not because what he did was immoral or even “cheating,” but because it violated the basic concept of openness.  Not unlike pit ball, each player can see all the others, and more importantly, each player knows he can be seen.  Unlike poker or even gin rummy, and in stark contrast to video gaming, board games compel a certain intimacy.

Also like pit ball, board games reveal basic human character.  One can tell as the game progresses how each player handles either success or failure.  For example, “Sorry!,” one of the most basic games of all, was named after the word you said when you landed on an opponent’s token and dispatched it back to its starting point.  The genius in the name was that it left to each player the varying degree of glee or regret with which the word might be uttered.  The youngster who bellowed “Sorry!” followed by a fierce laugh soon discovered that his mates stopped asking him to play.

Most important of all, a good board game draws its youthful contestants into a separate world.  Your little plastic car in the Game of Life carries your spouse and your kids down the road of imagination, albeit with some familiar landmarks to act as prompts. Video games, on the other hand, transport kids into a world of fantasy, not imagination, and as such numb the mind rather than stimulate it.  To be in Atlantic City buying and selling real estate asks the player to supply his or her own details and imagery.  To be in the midst of World of Warcraft demands nothing of the player other than quickness and experience.  As such, the board game stimulates rather than retards creativity.

DSC_6623All of which pertains to Field Day.  For seven hours on a Saturday in May we construct a world on this campus with which our students are generally unfamiliar, but not so much so that they have no control over their surroundings.  The Burroughs gym becomes a “country store.”  Lemons magically have peppermint sticks wedged into them.  The home of pit ball becomes first a stage and then a game of chance.  And kids, with their families and friends, are encouraged to negotiate this world, playing by its new rules but not that far removed from reality.  We take the journey through this day-long world together, as a school and as a faculty.  And then we pack it back into its box and return to the more prosaic campus life that is Norfolk Academy the school.

But we’ll always have our Swimways Toypedoes.

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