Games that are worth the candle by Jonathan Albin

Games that are Worth the Candle: Making the Case for Table Top Play

Article by Jonathan Albin


Chacha comWhat’s a Candle Worth??

For most of us, we see the candle as a decoration, a ‘birthday thing’, a romantic nuisance that lost its virtue when they invented the adjustable light fixture. In this case, it’s a metaphor for the changing times that have seemed to catch us all a little breathless, at the speed of technology’s advances. “Worth a candle” means “Worth the time and resources”.

We speed-date by cell-phone, change our schedules, TV volume, and finish our term papers on tablets. The nearly ubiquitous laptops of a decade ago are dropping like flies, the lidless screens and unblinking eye of some form of electronic engagement almost affixed to our faces.

 “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.  

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Do you feel it? The tempo of life speeding up, the amount of time we have to appreciate our lives quickly being gobbled up by schedules, meetings, planned events, training, classes, and activities? Ever wondered when the merry-go-round was going to slow down, let you get off and enjoy the life you’ve worked so hard to build?

If you have, and do feel that way, you are the lucky ones. Some of you haven’t yet noticed the hectic pace, the hurried nature of even calming things (someone is developing a program for ‘Speed Bikram Yoga’). You may have a chance after reading this.


Slow down, you move too fast; Got to make the moment last!

It is true we only have 24 hours in a day, but do you realize how many individual moments that represents?
We aren’t just talking about the arithmetic; sure, there are 3600 seconds in an hour, but how long does it take to put a smile on a child’s face?  How many heartbeats is a kiss? How long does it take to be happy?

The power of a table top game, whether as light and enjoyable as door-kicking Munchkin or Apples to Apples, or as strident and competitive as newly-renamed Catan or Agricola, is threefold in social interaction, and each converts a specified limited playtime in to infinite moments of engagement, community, and timelessness.

Small Wortld & Galaxy Trucker - A crowded table of games and playersBeing together isn’t enough

In the past, parties were a core means of networking, of putting people from a wide variety of backgrounds in a limited space in order to cause these individuals to interconnect, to build community and consensus through jointly-experienced   activities. These days, it seems more likely that the people going out to social gatherings are functionally hanging out with the same folks they always have, and the social engagement has moved online.

While socialization through electronic means are certainly safer, and give each person more room for making good decisions about whom they get to know, there certainly are still a lot of fearful stories of ill-fated meetings from the internet’s lidless eye. Table top games, even if simply added as a method of learning just that little bit more about others, certainly provides information that could prove helpful in determining the course of a relationship sooner, and more clearly, than the alternatives.

Community is more than just ‘hooking up’.

With the ever-expanding personal choices in input, there are consequences to the reduction in shared experiences. While the debate still rages, studies like the ones from Iowa State  and Brigham Young universities suggest that violence in video games are at least in part responsible for behavioral and psychological issues; but could it be more, and less, than the visual stimulus? For the most part, these experiences are individual in nature; so perhaps a better question is whether socialized play has a positive impact on behaviors and psychological well-being?

Putting players in situations wherein their behavior and response has direct social feedback would seem to be not only more responsible, but would allow our minds and conscience to build within the social bubble of being a part of our community, not in the isolation that console and computer games seem to foment by their very nature. Wouldn’t that seem to better answer the question?

The young: learning we’re only immortal, for a limited time.

In terms of game play, we are all kids. The immediacy and intensity of a vast variety of tabletop games draw the player into what could be called an ‘inverse fugue’ – wherein the participant, deeply involved with the experience of the game, loses both the track of the passage of time, and indeed, engages so deeply as to neglect other factors as well, in favor of competing in and completing the game. As you may have experienced, for instance, there is a distinctly childlike reflexive response to having to put an end to a game earlier than expected, an instantaneous return to time comprehension which fundamentally says, “Where did the time go? “ and “I wanted to play longer” simultaneously to the conscious mind.

Let’s get back to the future.

Like Doc Brown would say, ‘We have a problem.” We all seem to be in a rush to get on with the next part of our lives, to head on into the next phase, the next project, and so on. The reality is, the future is going to be here before we know it.

In coming articles, I will be addressing particular game titles, in what way they can help learn critical real-world skills, and how we can take advantage of this newfound skill to re-shape our live to meet our own demands of it.

How would you use an extra hour of time if you had it?  What games have you played, that taught you valuable lessons? Share below your thoughts and ideas.


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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.