“Shall we play a game?”
That was the invitation from a computer to Matthew Broderick in the 1983 movie “WarGames.” It was a good flick, and — spoiler alert — the kid saved the day, after almost starting a nuclear war while playing with a Defense Department simulator. All’s well that ends well.
The story focused on the mega-computer’s inability to tell a game from reality. It nearly led to global disaster, but was happily wrapped up 114 minutes, just as the popcorn was running out.
Now, 36 years later, we have games available to us at every moment. I enjoy playing poker, baseball and other games online. It’s enjoyable to be a high-roller at the tables, and less painful when you lose. I won and lost $3 million this weekend and didn’t let that cost me any sleep. Usually I am irritated when I lose $20 for real.
I have won a few thousand dollars at trivia contests over the years and am glad to see that grow in popularity at bars across the country. It’s a great way to spend time with family and friends, sharing a drink, a snack and, if all works out, some free cash.
Growing up in a big, highly competitive family, we played cards and board games for hours. One of the best part of the long Christmas break was the days-long tourneys we staged in the living room.
I have bought a few board games lately, but found Grace and family members have little interest in them.
I played checkers with my grandpa growing up, and learned to enjoy chess during the 1970s, when the brilliant and deeply troubled grandmaster Bobby Fischer sparked great interest in it. I still enjoy an occasional game, but finding opponents is difficult.
We watch Game Show Network a lot at home. It’s dominated by “Family Feud,” the current version hosted by comedian Steve Harvey. It’s a good show, with Harvey funny and fast on his feet, and the families eager to earn $20,000 and, if they win five shows, a “BRAND NEW CAR!”
But I think it falls short of the original, hosted by actor Richard Dawson. He commanded the stage, kissed all the women — they seemed thrilled by the chance to smooch the charming British entertainer — and was quick with a quip. You can see some of his best moments on YouTube.
Game Show Network also schedules “Cash Cab,” a truly unique program with comic Ben Bailey somehow driving a taxi in New York City traffic while serving as the MC and quizmaster. It’s fast and fun.
We also watch two new shows, “Common Knowledge,” which is drab and well-described by its title, and “America Says,” which is similar to “Family Feud.”
We are surprised how low the prizes are on these shows. Teams of four split a $15,000 top prize on “America Says,” and most don’t in. They end up with $1,000 total, and after taxes, that’s a meager award for appearing on a show that is repeatedly shown. I recall game shows awarding people $25,000 to $100,000 back in the 1980s, but those were the days of three networks and much larger audiences.
Still, it seems cheap.
The network owns the rights to but rarely shows classic game shows like “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line.” A minor cable channel, not available in our area, Buzzr, has a lineup of old chestnuts like that. Watching those games and contrasting them to modern versions really displays how crude our culture is now, and also reveals how intelligent and well-informed people were in the middle of the 20th century.
The quizzes were harder and the answers required in a shorter time period. Watching these game shows, it’s sad when young people are on and show little knowledge of history, politics, government, the arts ... really, most subjects.
Instead, the shows are often filled with lascivious questions and leering responses. Everyone is a nightclub comic working blue. It’s similar to politics, where the profane and crude candidates somehow rise to the top.
The most intellectually challenging game show is “Jeopardy,” which has grown in popularity and cultural cache in recent years. Host Alex Trebek announced he is battling pancreatic cancer. The 78-year-old Canadian, who has hosted the show since it was revived in 1984, is facing an uphill battle.
Winning against the odds is one reason people love to watch game shows and cheer for the contestants. Now, we’re rooting for the host, too, who’s in real jeopardy but is game to battle it.
South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.
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