Thursday, January 29, 2015

Games of skill, games of chance

This past weekend I was reminded of the title, at least, of this old post because I was in fact at a bounce house birthday party on Saturday evening and it was, indeed, the second one of the year already, and January not even over yet. I’m not saying this in any kind of grudging way. The invention (and, in our neck of the woods, astonishing proliferation) of bounce house venues is a godsend for kids (and their parents) who have the misfortune of birthdays falling at a point in the year when the weather is too nasty for romping and roughhousing outside. And as the years go by, it’s getting easier and easier to attend said parties in a supervisory capacity, because the little guy and little girl can more or less take care of themselves. They were both invited to last Saturday’s party, which was held in honor of the boy who lives a couple doors down and is between my son and daughter in age and ostensibly friends with both of them. The bino, still fighting his way through lingering malignancies of his own, sat out the party and stayed home with mom, so I was able to show up, turn my older two loose, and stand by to generally make sure they didn’t flaunt the rules and/or social expectations.

In addition to the requisite inflatable play areas and separate pizza-and-cake room, this venue has a small video arcade which contains the following games:

- 1 air hockey table
- 1 skee-ball machine
- 1 two-player seated racing game
- 1 whack-a-mole
- 1 cabinet with 80’s classics like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga
- 2 different prize claw machines

And when a child has a birthday party at the venue, every attendee gets a token for the game room. So between my two kids, they had the ability to play two different games. The little guy kind of domineered his way into choosing what both tokens would be spent on. First he asked the little girl if she wanted to play air hockey, and she agreed, but her reflexes aren’t quite ready for that action yet, so after her brother whipped a few quick shots past her and into the goal, she announced she was done. (I took over for her, evened up the score, and then let the little guy win 7-6.)

Then the little guy asked if he could play one of the claw games. One of them was what you’d probably think of as a standard model, while the other was a little more interesting. The claw was a bright red skeleton of a T-Rex, with opening and closing jaws for grabbing a prize. The prizes, which were fairly small little plastic geegaws, were all on a rotating plate and the controls allowed you to lower the T-Rex head, open and close the jaws, lift the head, rotate it to the side, and open the jaws again to drop the prize (if any) down the chute. If that sounds a bit complicated, that’s what I was thinking too. But the little guy immediately had his heart set on trying it, and I ultimately rationalized to myself that it would make for a good object lesson about how some games in an arcade are legitimately fun games, and some are sucker bet rip-offs. The cost of admission was just the free token for attending a birthday party, after all, which balanced pretty well in my mind.

Still, I wasn’t going to hang the little guy out to dry completely. I stood with him and put my hand on his as he attempted to operate the controls after the token had been duly inserted. Of course, as is his wont, he went immediately for throttling the controls as hard as he could, while I tried to guide things in a slightly more controlled fashion. It all happened pretty fast, but somehow, not only did we succeed in nipping something in the teeth of the dinosaur skull, we succeeded in snagging two somethings: a figurine of a unicorn and a bendy alien toy. Thus my efforts to demonstrate to my children not to be too gullible about rigged games ended pretty much opposite from how I envisioned them. But on the upside, the little guy very graciously gave the unicorn to his sister, which delighted her, and he was pretty pleased with the alien he kept for himself. There are worse outcomes, all in all.

(P.S. The old post I linked to above ends with a meditation on whether or not my daughter, a toddler at the time, would grow up to love pizza as much as her old man. I am happy to report that she certainly seems to be headed that way, long after the novelty of the stuff has worn off. She gets super-psyched whenever we tell her we are ordering pizza for dinner. The little guy continues to be kind of shruggingly take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to a decent slice, but ah well.)

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