A friend of mine is in a bocce league. He’s in another state so I can’t join his league—you could even say he’s out of my league—but there is an Italian restaurant near me that has a bocce court and I keep meaning to ask if they have regular games because it seems like it would be fun, although the rules are completely bonkers. I’ve tried reading the Wikipedia article on bocce at least three times now and I still haven’t quite made sense of it. In terms of rules it seems akin to curling although I think it’s also related to the broader category of lawn games that include croquet and even golf. Billiards also seems to be descended from lawn games—let’s face it, golf is basically pool but with a single, smaller ball, and a single pocket that’s much farther away—and pays homage to its grassy roots with a table covered with green felt.
In the category of things I didn’t really think about until I started thinking about them is how many games employ a ball of some sort which suggests that almost all have a common origin. The skill of throwing a ball or hitting a ball with a stick must have been useful to early humans. It was a good way to practice hunting skills.
Just as important, though, or perhaps even more important, sports could also provide a form of bonding. Any group activity with a set of clearly defined rules can bring people together. Unfortunately games can also be divisive, but, while there are serious matters we have to deal with, games aren’t a matter of life and death.
Sometimes games can even be divisive when you don’t expect it, like the time I was watching a 9-ball match on TV and my wife sat down to watch it with me. She said, “So it’s called 9-ball because they have to sink nine balls.”
“Right,” I said, “and in numerical order. There’s also a game called 7-ball that uses seven balls.”
“So 8-ball uses eight balls then?”
“No, 8-ball has fifteen balls.”
“I give up.”
To be fair she does understand curling a lot better than I do.