By Jeffrey D. Allers
After a three-year absence, my family and I are vacationing in America, the land of my childhood and youth, and I find myself returning to a country that, for most of my adult life, has primarily lived on in my memories. Sometimes in fact, when I revisit a place that had some significance in shaping my story, I am flooded by so many memories that it dwarfs anything new I can experience there, and my wife and sons have to snap me out of my daydream.
We often attach our memories to places, and it is no wonder we rejoice in their preservation or mourn their destruction, as the vividness of the past can be stronger or weaker because of it.
But there are other things besides locations that remind us of where we’ve been. Music, for example, was the diary of my youth, and I can still recall much of what I was doing and feeling when I hear one of those “oldies” from the 80’s again. I’m certain that the nostalgic feelings connected with music are the reason supergroups made of up senior citizens can still sell out tour dates. It’s tempting to buy the new Cars album, but even if the music is just as good as their earlier work, it wouldn’t be the same because the new songs won’t help me reminisce the way “Just What I Needed” still does.
In addition to CD’s, we seem to collect all kinds of other items that recall our past. It’s no wonder scrapbooking has become a major hobby, as people craft their colorful collages of photographs and other two-dimensional memorabilia. And most people have shelves and boxes of the 3-dimensional variety as well. I still have a chunk of the Berlin Wall that I personally chiseled out in 1990. Unlike the pieces that are still on sale from street vendors, mine is devoid of graffiti.
After moving to Berlin four years later, my German friends introduced me to a new form of memorabilia: board games. Every time I play Carcassonne, I can still vividly picture the four of us sitting around a small table after dinner, wine glasses filled with Merlot, and stacks of small tiles around an ever-expanding game board.
Since then, I cannot count the games that have been the setting for new friendships and experiences, all of which come flooding back whenever they hit the table again. They have become a kind of soundtrack for my adult life, in much the same way that music was in my youth. In fact, I recently traded for a copy of Volldampf mostly for sentimental reasons, as it was the first game I was ever taught at my first weekly gaming group.
Looking deeper into my gaming closet, however, makes me realize that games were part of my memorabilia long before I ever traded wool for wood or placed a meeple on a tile. I can even still smell the basement where my childhood buddies introduced me to Risk, and I can remember vividly the frustration I experienced every time I failed to hold onto Europe in our 6-player games.
And then there’s the time I was dragging my feet to visit my parent’s friends for a weekend–until their older son taught me Stratego and played the game with me repeatedly for the next 48 hours.
It is both fun and valuable to our personal growth to look back on experiences that brought us joy, built friendships and shaped our lives, and memorabilia plays a part in bringing that past back to life. There are limits, of course, to how much we can collect. And there is a danger in surrounding ourselves with mementos, encouraging us to live in the past while missing out on the making of new memories in the here and now.
But being too occupied with the present–or the future–also means forgetting both the encouraging triumphs and the teachable failures of the past. Perhaps that’s as good an argument as any to keep playing the older games that still remind us of the people who introduced us to the hobby…
…and to continue to make board games a type of memorabilia for the friends we’ll make in the future.