That being said for some reason, we would always play the game Risk. I have no idea why, but that was always deemed to be the time waster of choice. Risk, as we all know, is the boardgame of total world domination which brings laughter and hilarity to all those involved. Six players randomly divide up territories on a map of the world and then proceed to battle each other through dice rollings. War used to be so nice and simple.
There are many ways that you could neatly characterize my childhood. The struggles. The achievements. The glories. Here are a couple of popular themes:
- Shakes, the boy who used to get paid by his parents if he agreed to completely eat all of the food on his plate at meal time for several days in a row
- Shakes, the person used to be so obsessive compulsive that he wouldn't sleep at night until he recited all the teams in the NFL in alphabetical order by division within a self-imposed time limit of 22 seconds
- Shakes the tragic hero who never won a game of Risk. Ever.
Fast forward to my third year in college and on one particularly uneventful Friday night several of us, my then-girl friend included, decided to play Risk. What else could be better on a cold late winter night, right?
Well over the course of the next 4 hours, the unthinkable occurred. For whatever reason the Great Black Army (me) was crushing armies left and right. You rolled a pair of 4's, I'd roll 5's. You roll a 5 and a 6, I'd roll two 6's. I was on fire. Step up biznatch. Konichiwa. It's a celebration.
All the other players started falling like flies, leaving only my girlfriend and me. At this point she began to insert a bit of drama into the whole proceedings by pretending that her slowly disappearing army of plastic pieces were in fact real people who were fighting for a real cause. "Oh my the people of Ukraine will proudly defend their heritage against the evil Black Army...!"
This of course is a bit ridiculous, but I happily obliged this newfound by claiming that her Green Army deserved to die. Risk, like war, is amoral. While this was humorous at first,I started to really pile up the wins. And as I was piling on the wins she started getting emotionally distressed until she finally said..."okay okay, I give up, you win."
This is where the trouble began.
Allow me to place things in perspective. During World War II did the Polish people ever sheepishly tell the Germans "You're gonna win, just take us over"? No.
During every Super Bowl that the Buffalo Bills were involved in, did they ever tell the Redskins, Giants, or Cowboys (twice) that "You know what, we're gonna lose this game badly anyways, how about you just take the trophy right now." No.
When Martina Luther King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech, did he simply say "I find it difficult to sleep at night these days on my poor mattress and hence I don't have any good dreams" ? Absolutely not.
When George Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 to Al Gore did he say "Oh shit, most Americans don't like me"? No, he became the President instead.
So think about what was going through my head when the opportunity of vanquishing a decade of Risk failure was within my grasps. I wanted the pure joy of seeing my armies cover every single territory on the board. Every boy should have this experience.
As such when Caitlin made her offer to quit, I refused to accept. Many years later scholars would argue that I could've simply accepted it, placed my armies everywhere, and all would be okay. But I did not. I forced her to keep playing and she began crying. There is no crying in Risk and furthermore it would not thwart my campaign of invading Australia. With each lost territory the crying got worse until I finally won.... at which point she bolted out of the room crying.
Three days later we broke up after going out for a year. It takes a big man to win under such adverse conditions.
The morale of the story is this: they say it is better to have loved and lost then to have never have loved at all. That person is wrong. It sucks. But winning at Risk proved to be a comforting, albeit temporary, way to go down in flames. If only the great poets like Thoreau & Rainer Rilke could have had such an emotional crutch they wouldn't have wasted so much time writing about heartache.
As a final postscript, for whatever it's worth, I have yet to play Risk in the ensuing 8 years.