I’m addicted to the board game The Settlers of Catan. For some reason, looking at my cards and seeing enough ore and wheat to build a city is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Cities, man, cities.
I also love cribbage. Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, a pair for eight and nobs for nine. It’s gotten so bad that I’m playing cribbage at dinner, dropping cards on my food and taking two times too long to eat a burger and a bowl of soup.
I can’t get enough of backgammon, either. Rolling boxcars in backgammon is pretty damn exciting. It doesn’t hurt that the learning curve is quick and the games quicker.
At first, I figured I was drawn to the competition and strategy of the games themselves. But there’s only so much skill involved in cribbage and backgammon. No, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not addicted to the games; I’m really just hooked on the people that play them and the communities they create.
But this is sounding too much like a college application essay. Bromides and cute phrasing aside, games have begun to take up a not-so-insignificant slice of my time here at Yale.
When I stop and think about why this is, I reach a couple of conclusions. The first is that playing games with people is different from most of what I do here. After a game of Settlers, I haven’t gained anything tangible. I haven’t learned anything for a class, contributed to the broader Yale community or completed a nagging pset. What I have done is invested in the people around me.
Deciding to devote a couple of hours to a game with friends is like saying “you’re important, you matter and I would rather spend time with you than do my reading for class tomorrow.” Neglecting assignments isn’t the best thing in the world, but we all finish them eventually, right? It feels good to spend time doing stuff with other people that won’t further my academic or professional goals. Maybe that sounds lazy. Who cares?
A couple of times this semester, I’ve felt suffocated by this place. It demands that we take it on full bore, forces us to invest more in ourselves than anyone else and emphasizes the future so much that you’d think we’re living in it.
I think that I’ve started to play Settlers so much because it creates an organic community in a way that other activities here sometimes fail to do. What I mean is that spending time with people doing nothing particularly important — shooting the breeze, so to speak — permits us to tone ourselves down a notch. And while it’s our hyperactive selves that may have gotten us into Yale, I’m not sure that it’s our hyperactive selves that create sustaining relationships and vibrant communities.
My friend from home just visited for the weekend. Before he left, he made the comment that it seems like extracurriculars aren’t quite extracurriculars here; they’re really just curriculars. I tend to agree with him. I don’t know whether or not this is a problem, or whether such a distinction even matters. What I do know is that if he’s right, games might be my true extracurricular.
It’s easy to bemoan the hectic schedules and stressful weeks that this place generates. I do it all the time. I don’t think that complaining about it is necessarily bad. For me, it’s a way to vocalize some sort of frustration that I have with my own desire to push myself to the limit, even when it means sacrificing my mental and emotional well-being. So I might just keep on complaining.
What I will not continue to do, however, is to sacrifice lasting communities for the sake of a class, an extracurricular or an abstract future. The other day I played Settlers in my suite instead of doing my reading. It was a tight game, and for two hours my universe shrank to the size of the room where we were playing. I eventually lost. Then I did my reading. Or at least some of it.
My point is that we’re all very good at putting in the necessary work. More often than not, we complain about our workloads when we’ve done half of the reading already. Acknowledging our tendency to approach much of life full bore doesn’t mean that we need to stop being so hyperactive and assertive. I just think it might mean that we should spend a little more time doing nothing in particular. That’s not a new idea at all. Just one that may be a bit too dusty.
Emmet Hedin is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.