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art by Billy Sagulo

Games

James Valvis is the author of How to Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared widely in journals such as Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Daily Science Fiction, LA Review, Nimrod, River Styx, Strange Horizons, Vestal Review, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle and his website is here: http://valvis.net/.''
The alien sat, if you called it sitting, in my tree house as I tried to explain the game of Monopoly to him.
"No, no, no," I said. "You're stupider than Billy Ailes and he's been left back twice. Boardwalk is yours. You bought it and you own it. You just can't give it up. Maybe you can sell it, but if you hand over all your properties you'll lose the game."
The alien said, "Losing the game is bad?"
I rolled my eyes at him. I'd already told him three times losing was bad.
The alien smiled. At least I think he was smiling. "We keep Boardwalk then?"
He was cool, very friendly, but his voice was kind of creepy. It didn't sound like one voice but like many, millions of them, not loud but like an echo. And echoes with echoes. As I understood it, every alien in the ship above was connected to the alien in my tree house. When he spoke, they all spoke. What he heard, they all heard. What he learned, they all learned. And they had a lot to learn. Even the idea of money was weird to them. He started off trying to eat the Monopoly bankroll I gave him. I had no idea how such a race was smart enough to travel all those light years to get here, but I also had to admit it was impressive how quickly he picked up my language.
"The object of the game," I went on, "is to get everything."
"Leave nothing for anyone else?"
"Right."
"Interesting," the alien said. He paused there, like there was a commotion in his mind, like the aliens back on the ship were arguing. It seemed a lot of bother over nothing.
"Are you ready to roll again?" I said.
"We come to share," said the alien. He looked something like a mini-Predator, minus all the epic gear. He was about my height, but I got the feeling he was a grownup. I mean, he gave off that vibe. "We have much to share, but we now learn sharing not desired. We learn now about properties. Waterworks. Railroads. We like to own. Owning better than jail. Don't like jail. Have to roll doubles to get out of jail."
"Right," I said. "But, you know, Monopoly kinda sucks. A game can take forever, and I guess you don't have forever. How about we play some chess?"
So we played chess. I had to teach him that as well. This alien (these aliens?) didn't seem to know much of anything. I thought by starting them off on board games it would be easier, but no dice. Still, he caught on eventually. The hardest part for him wasn't learning the moves but understanding that one piece had to take out the other piece.
"Why they cannot share space?"
"Because, dummy," I said. "It's no fun just moving pieces around the board. Someone has to win and someone has to lose."
"Maybe black knight likes white bishop."
"They can't like each other!" I yelled. "They're different!"
More murmuring in the background, more discussion, and perhaps a wince of pain in the face of the alien.
"Attacking is good?" he said finally.
"Attacking is terrific," I assured him. "It's the only way to win. It's the only way to make the game fun."
We played some, and he wasn't very hard to beat.
"Checkmate," I said. "It's the end of the game. I won. I made the right moves and you lost."
"We play again?"
"Sure."
We played about twenty games, during which I learned his ship was as big as our moon but invisible, and by the twentieth game he was way out of my league. It made sense. One sixth-grader against the collected minds of all those aliens working together was a bit unfair.
I was bored with chess anyway, and so I pulled out my iPad and we played some video games. That started out as disastrously as the board games.
"No," I said, frustrated. "You have to blast the people dead. God, you aliens are so ridiculous. You just want to walk around with your lasers and talk to people and heal them and everything. It doesn't work that way. You gotta shoot or you die and your score is terrible. Here, let me show you how to fry those people."
"Frying people is good?"
"Epic. Coolest game on Earth."
There was another conference in his brain. Then he said he had to go. He was happy to have met me before he met anyone else. I had given them a lot to think about and they would talk about things for a time and then come back in a week. He said it would be a good idea if the people on our planet got ready to play games. He was sure after the talk and the manufacturing of some game pieces, there was going to be a lot of fun when he came back.
That was six days ago and I can't wait until tomorrow.
It gets boring around here having no one to play with.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013


This story seems the marriage of two thoughts. First, games rarely encourage us to practice our better natures. And second, any species traveling the vast distances of space would need to share a species-wide cooperation we presently do not enjoy. So would they teach us to be more cooperative? Or would we teach them to be more competitive, selfish, and warlike? "Games" is my answer.

- James Valvis

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