Games That Last

Recently stuck in quite possibly the slowest traffic this side of the Sierras I found myself among some of my closest friends, sitting awfully close together within a small Toyota hybrid, idling in traffic.  In an attempt to rid our ears of the sounds of the aggravated drivers amid us, beeping their horns and grinding their gear, we turned to an old past time and oh boy, was it a hoot.  Mind games.

Thinking back to the essential ingredient for a good ’ol summer, I think of summer camp and with that games.  Some of my favorite memories actually occurred when traveling to and from or around camp when we playing games exclusively in our minds.  These mentally challenging games, officiated by camp counselors or crafty carpool parents, were almost always played in conversation.  There were silly ones like “I Spy” and “Twenty Questions,” as well as tricky ones like “Around the World” or “Black Magic,” where you didn’t know the rules until you started playing.  As we grew older some of these childish games were adapted in college to a more risqué array of players such as “Never Have I Ever,” which undoubtedly became vulgar the further your progressed through your coursework.  Time and time again though I have played these games with a variety of folks in an assortment of settings and you know what, the games are still fun.  That is the great thing about these mind games or riddles, they grow with you.

Better than any parlor trick, I believe having a handful of these mind games in your back pocket is more useful than any app or mobile device.  When we were stuck in that traffic we were so engaged in a round of “Contact,” a game that combines I’m thinking of questions and letter elimination into a rousing battle of wits, that I didn’t even notice when we had only moved 2 miles after 25 minutes.  Our game master kept our thoughts off the road.  Moreover, we were bonding, laughing, and if there were a stranger among us there would be no more.  These games are often intended as Ice Breakers, a way for otherwise newly acquainted individuals to rapidly get to know each other within a safe and supportive round of awkward questions.  For someone shy or outspoken these games level the playing field when every face becomes new and unknown.  For kids and adults alike this is an opportunity to re-create identities, if only for a single round.

Games challenge our thought processes, which as supported by many behavioral studies as well as the 1990 novel Flow, written by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, increases our general feelings of happiness.  As we engage in certain activities, for instance exercise, mental engagement (aka work), and eating certain foods inhibitory transmitters like serotonin are released in our brain.  These chemicals balance, or counteract, the more excitatory neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, which in some cases over can stimulate our brain’s activity, wear us out, and leave us feeling unhappy.  When these chemicals are properly balanced we feel great.  One may also call it jiving, grooving, in the flow, or in the zone.  You are actively engaged and your brain is chemically rolling at equilibrium.  Mind games is one of these challenging yet satisfying activities that increases serotonin.  This is exceptionally helpful when in a stressful situation, like being stuck in traffic or waiting to be seated at a restaurant.

Throughout childhood participants in mind games without fail admire, and are stumped, by game masters.  To this day I will always remember my camp counselors as being honorable role models, people of compassion, patience, and wizards of riddles.  Possibly some of the most brilliant, and twisted people, I’ve ever met.






MM Sheridan can most often be found jogging through the northern California foothills, sunning on the beach with a good book, or frequenting any given café sipping an Americano and conversing with potentially great company. Topics of interest include everything and everything at anytime or anywhere.

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