Pokémon Go, the game that has taken the world by storm, would not be possible without modern technology; but close on half-a-century ago, I was playing a game that wasn’t too far from it in spirit.
I have beside me on the desk a card game that my brother and I used to play to pass the time on long car trips, which were a staple of my youth. If we were not, as a family, driving from our home in Richmond to my maternal grandparents’ property in Okanagan Falls, we were driving from Richmond to a friend’s cabin up Oregon Jack Valley near Ashcroft, so car trips of 200+ miles were nothing special.
The game—the name of which is lost, as the box is long gone—was one means of trying to keep my brother John and I occupied during those trips. On the back of each of the 40 cards is a fairly simplistic illustration of a family—father, mother, son, and daughter—seated in a convertible, each of them with a manically cheerful smile that suggests the consumption of large amounts of recreational drugs. The other side of each card bears a drawing of something that one could conceivably see during a car journey, each with a different point value: easy to spot things, such as a bus or a stop sign, are worth fewer points than such things as a cream-and-red two-tone car or a school crossing sign.
Each player was dealt a certain number of cards, and collected the points associated with each item in their hand as it was spotted. When my brother and I played it, the winner was either the person who collected the most points, or the player who did not throw the cards down at some point and say “This game is stupid.”
It’s clearly a Canadian game, as the wording on each card is in French (top) and English (bottom), and a “car with a foreign licence” can be “from another province or state”. However, we were playing the game long before bilingualism became an official edict, and the drawings of the cars show models from the 1950s and 1960s.
The cards themselves are well-thumbed, although looking at them now it’s clear that my brother and I soon found deficiencies which we attempted to correct, as someone (me, from the printing) has changed the descriptions on several of them. Hence a pink car has become a blue one; the blue convertible has become a police car; the school zone sign has become a Canadian flag; and chickens have become “any small bird”.
As a time capsule, the cards are interesting; not just because of the vehicles depicted (when did you last see a station wagon?), but because the points suggest what was commonly seen, some 50 years ago, and what was not. The aforementioned station wagon, for example, is worth only one point, whereas a “car with trailer” (helpfully augmented with the words “any trailer—boat, house, luggage, etc.”) is worth eight. A motorcycle is also eight points, and a plane is nine, suggesting that both were much more uncommon sights then than they are now.
The game is almost unbearably quaint today, and I can’t see how it would hold the attention of any child for long (whatever charms it possessed had usually worn off for my brother and me by the time we got to Hope). But it did encourage us to look around as we travelled, and take note of what we saw, which is not that much different to what Pokémon Go is achieving. The more things change, the more they stay the same.