The Family That Plays Together: My Life in Games

My family plays a lot of games. We have a cabinet full of tabletop games (board, card and dice games) and real money game apps loaded on just about every device in the house. Gaming is, therefore, a big part of our lives, and it’s how we spend a significant amount of our free time.

I didn’t necessarily grow up that way. My family had the standard games like Monopoly and Yahtzee, but they didn’t come off the shelf that often. We usually spent our free time reading or watching television. When we got together with our cousins, aunts and uncles however, games like Boggle and Checkers would get dragged out and be kept in heavy rotation until everyone went home.

I became hooked on video games (along with my brother) when I was around 12 years old, and my parents purchased an Intellivision gaming system (I know…I’m that old.) Donkey Kong, Centipede and Astrosmash captured our imaginations and kicked off a life-long love for moving pixels around on a screen. (I don’t think my parents appreciated how much I enjoyed playing video games, however. When I was 16 they bought our first family computer — a Commodore 64 — and while my brother received a couple of video games to play on it, I was given a word processing program.)

In college, I played a lot of cards with my roommates — Hearts, Pinochle and 500 were our games of choice, with a healthy dose of Cribbage on the side. There wasn’t much video gaming to be done at the time since home computers were still uncommon, and as a ragged group of college kids we were too broke to own a gaming system. Ever since college though, I’ve had a steady succession of increasingly powerful home computers, and I’ve accumulated a healthy stack of video games to go with them.

My gaming life continued when I met my husband. He had already started teaching his 4 year old son (GT) to play chess, and they had several other board and card games that they liked to play. When we got married, I added my handful of board games to the mix. We also invested in card games — GT learned to read playing Pokemon, and when he was 9 we switched to Magic the Gathering and the Pokemon cards all went to my nieces.

We also have played and continue to play video games, on a variety of devices including a Wii that GT purchased with his birthday money a few years ago. GT, now 11, is particularly obsessed with playing Minecraft at the moment, and I have played just about as much Skyrim as my marriage could withstand.

All of this is to say that gaming in one form or another plays a significant role in our lives. And yet, it would be so much less so if it weren’t for Wil Wheaton’s TableTop web series on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend checking it out. It has a simple yet wonderfully entertaining premise…Wheaton and his often famous friends get together and play games. That’s it. Every episode is a different tabletop game, and Wheaton kicks each one off with a high-level overview of the game’s theme and rules. Then they play, with frequent cutaways to interviews that illustrate what the players were thinking or doing at various points during the game.

I love this show, and so does GT, for so many reasons. First, it’s a great way to learn about new games and see how they’re played. The editing and graphics are done in such a way as to clearly communicate a basic sense of the rules and game-play, without taking away from the fun and playful tone. (If you’re looking for a detailed and exacting breakdown of the rules and a serious treatment of gaming, this may not be the show for you.) I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos that were either reviews or play-throughs of games, and I have yet to find any that do as good a job as TableTop does of making the games look fun to play.

Second, Wheaton has some really cool and interesting friends, ranging from actors to game designers. Felicia Day is a producer of the show (TableTop is part of her Geek and Sundry YouTube channel) and frequent guest. Other guests can be as varied as Grant Imahara (Mythbusters), Jane Espenson (television writer and producer for shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time), Steve Jackson (game designer best known for the Munchkin game series), Yuri Lowenthal (voice actor), Chris Hardwick (comedian, podcaster and television host), Hannah Hart (My Drunk Kitchen YouTube series) and Bobak Ferdowsi (NASA systems engineer, famous as the “Mohawk Guy”).

TableTopThird, it has exposed us to a whole world of tabletop games beyond those that are typically found in our local big box store. Before we started watching TableTop, our board games consisted of little more than Monopoly, Scrabble, Mouse Trap and a few others. Because of TableTop, we’ve added over a dozen games, including Small World, Ticket to Ride, Elder Sign, Pandemic, King of Tokyo and Lords of Waterdeep. Many of these are games that I wouldn’t have looked at twice, or wouldn’t have known to pick, out of the wide selection at our local independent game store. Now they’re in regular rotation in our home. I’m especially thrilled to have been introduced to cooperative games like Pandemic and Elder Sign, where all (or most) of the players are working toward a common goal. In my family’s case, this helps mitigate my over-competitiveness and puts GT in the winner’s column more often than he normally would be when we’re playing the more strategic games.

Finally, and I think most importantly, TableTop shares and spreads Wheaton’s absolute love and enthusiasm for games and game-play. He plays with his friends. He plays with his family. He built a successful video series where viewers watch other people play games, and it works in large part because of his nerdy enthusiasm (if you think that’s a dig, please know that I proudly self-identify as a nerd.) Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. There’s pretty good evidence that TableTop has brought more people to gaming, and that it has had a demonstrable effect on game sales (known as the “Wheaton or TableTop Effect”).

tabletopday2014_600x500Last year, Wheaton and Felicia Day hosted an International TableTop Day, where they encouraged people to get together, play games and share their experiences. Over 3000 gaming events were held in over 60 countries, many of them featured on a live feed on YouTube. That’s over 3000 events where people came together to play games, have fun, interact and make new friends. I live in a rural area where there weren’t any gaming events nearby, so I wasn’t able to participate, but I did keep the live feed on all day at home. It was strangely thrilling to watch all the gaming events with all these people doing the thing that my family loves to do, and know that it was all because of one little video series.

They’re doing it again on Saturday, April 5th, and this year…I’ll probably be doing a system upgrade at work so I’ll have to miss it, which has been pretty disappointing for GT and me. But, it has inspired me to try to set up a regular gaming group with some friends and their kids and to continue seeking out and playing new games. And when the 3rd annual International TableTop Day rolls around next year, I’ll be prepared with my calendar cleared and stack of games ready for play.

If you’re planning anything for International TableTop Day, let us know in the comments!

Featured image by author, all rights reserved.


Tammy was carefree and childless for most of her adult life before she married a single-dad and became the dreaded "Step Mother". She's also an auntie to five young nieces, on whom she's hoping to be the best bad influence possible. She spends her daytime hours as a computer professional. You can find her on Twitter (@SDTripleL) and Google+.

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