I’ll give one last run down of the things I’ve observed, and then there are a couple of points I’d like to make as to how this all fits into gaming in general.
Monopoly: There was a set at the main rec room and it did come out a few times, but I don’t think anyone actually played a game with it. Kids played with it they way some adults tinker with Traveller.
Risk: My previous opponent started a second game of Risk with several other boys at one point. The kid had strong preferences with regards to the rules; I didn’t really care so much what they were as long as they were applied consistently. He went with American style picking of territories, forty armies at start, no cards at start, 6 armies for a mixed set of cards only, and up to three “free moves” at the end of your turn. He had this idea that the attacker could always roll three dice no matter how many armies he had, and I argued pretty hard for him to do it the “right” way. Not having the rules on hand meant a lot of consensus building and then almost constant reinforcement. The camp schedule is so punishing that it was it was very difficult to finish the game, though I did see my opponent organize another game in the evening that couldn’t be interrupted so easily.
Shut the Box: Another kid got this out and was asking me about it. Again, there were no rules in sight! I conjectured that you rolled the dice and then could turn down the two numbers that match each of your dice OR turn down the one number that matches the sum of your dice. We played a few rounds where we’d give the game to the person with the lowest total in remaining numbers after they could no longer make a match. This resulted in a lot of adding, so we decided to allow players to turn down any set of numbers that added up to the total on the dice. This made it possible for once of us to “shut the box” after a few rounds by turning down all the numbers.
Checkers: A couple of girls were playing checkers one evening. They got my attention because one of them had her pieces on black squares and the other had her pieces on red squares. I asked them if this was intentional and they looked at me like I was weird for asking the question. Then they got to a position where two pieces were side by side and they tried to puzzle out what the rule for jumping was in this unorthodox variant. When I turned around again later, I noticed that they had started over with all of the pieces on the black squares. (I did not observe how they played kings at the end. Most people in our region allow the king to move and jump in any direction. I prefer allowing the king to make long-legged jumps and bishop-like moves because it speeds up the end game and the outcome is less drawish.)
Four Square: Unlike the above games, four square is serious business. The rules for this are laminated and posted in multiple locations at the shelter.
Volley Ball: People got out and beat the ball around quite a bit during the week, but one “real” game did get played. It was run playground style with two captains taking turns to pick players. This well worn system is pretty effective at creating to fair contest: I think the game came down to a tiebreaker at the very last second. It was a friendly game played by consensus due to the lack of a referee or moderator, but the players were pretty invested in the outcome. This was, in my opinion, the most interesting game played during the week… and I of course had no part in it!
Canoeing: It turned out that flipping canoes and then getting people righted and back on board was far more interesting than anything else we could do in class. The two older boys went under the upside down canoe to observe what it was like… and then started yelling at each other. The muffled sounds were hilarious. When they came out again, one them said to the other, “the conversation is over!” We almost started another duck game at the end, but it wasn’t long before someone else flipped again. They couldn’t get back on board for some reason, so we threw all the ducks into their boat. One of the boys went over to pilot it home while the girls swam back to the dock.
Fishing: I took this class one with my daughter, but she ended up getting board after the first day. I got onto her about ditching it and she went through the motions for the last session. I was actually pretty keen on learning some of this because my grandfather died before he could teach me. I didn’t mind baiting the hook so much, but the extra wiggly earthworms that put up some resistance were a bit of a challenge. I learned how to cast and how to get my line dislodged from a tree. The rod and reel is truly a marvelous invention. Pro tip: take the earliest session available because the fish don’t bite after first period.
Swimming: This was mostly just a popular means for the kids to cool off on a hot day. I took the opportunity to benefit from the collective camp wisdom and learn how to dive. (Nope, never did learn how before now.) One of the counselors suggested that I squat down all the way on the edge of the diving board and then just fall in. This turned out to be an ingenious method of getting me on track to making sure I went head down instead of belly flopping, though it didn’t work so well for the kid that asked me about it. I actually got to the point where I had the confidence to run and dive in, though I really wrenched my spine when I went in from a standing dive and then let my legs bend and flip too far forwards. I was on the higher diving board just as a girl was walking up… and that was of course the exact moment that I completely busted. (I chickened out in midair.)
So, about all of this game play and activity:
The counselors run a pretty good set of demos. Given the kids’ overall maturity level and capacity to learn, making the classes more elaborate will mostly be a waste of effort. The average kid will sample a half dozen things from year to year and may only follow up on one of them. If the kids are going to be really challenged or otherwise develop advanced skills in any of these things, they will do so by joining a group or team or by being mentored by other hobbyists. Camp does not provide a lot of pressure for the kids to follow through on anything or even participate all the way through the week, but it can be a really great way to flush out undiscovered interests that can be explored during the rest of the year.
Counselors do strike me as having sort of an anti-gaming field surrounding them. They use scoring as a motivator, but do not require or expect strict adherence to rules and often omit any mention of the final outcome at the end of a game. I don’t know quite where this school of thought is emanating from as it is quite foreign to my memories of childhood. I don’t think it comes from individual counselors so much but rather has emerged through training and custom among the counselors as a group. In their reactions to various events at camp, however, it is pretty clear that they see aggressiveness and competitiveness as being a problem to redirect, stifle, and work around.
The kids, however, do not embrace the counselors’ approach when they set up their own games. This is not because of their inherent sense of justice in the G. K. Chesterton sense, but rather because they do not have the benefit of a moderator to keep a non-game activity under control. Actual rules, adhered to in good faith in the context of real competition create structured activity without requiring constant adult intervention in order to maintain fairness. “Calvin Ball” is a recreational dead end when you don’t have someone to babysit it constantly.