Not that I'm surprised - this attempt by Dad to challenge me and try to teach me something through the game falls right in line with how I know him. Growing up, Dad was never the kind to demean my brothers and me for not being the best at what we did, but he was adamant about us making a real effort. Whether we weren't doing our best in school or trying to give up because things got hard, if he knew we could do better, he would let us know it.

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"As much as anything," Dad says about how he thinks the game has impacted us, "it's about maintaining the relationship ... that somehow we're connected in our lives even while we're almost two hours apart means something to me. You know, father and son, that we have an ongoing contact."

It's a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. We both recognize that while we have other means of communication, our email games of Civilization IV provide a constant means of contact. Even on our busiest days, we can usually get in at least one turn a day. It's a nice thing to have, especially considering how important he's been in my life. He's given me my name, introduced me to Star Wars, shown me old-time classics like the Marx Brothers, made a point of trying to teach me the importance of hard work, been my pastor for most my life, and even gave me my earliest driving lessons at a time before it was technically legal for him to do so.

He also enjoys being able to match wits and get an insight about where my focus is. Additionally, it allows him to learn more about my real life, such as what times I'm working or how late I'm staying up. As a bonus, there are also the insights he gets into the game itself that he wouldn't discover otherwise. Observing my massive deployments of missionaries, he realized the financial benefits of spreading religions as a long term strategy.

But to me, the key to why playing Civ is important comes back to that first idea - even when I can't see him, I'm still getting to spend time with my Dad.

"I should have declared war on you," I say as the game ends. Dad doesn't argue with the sentiment. Having just finished off Mehmed, I'm at home with a large army, while Dad is relatively undefended. Plus, I'm sitting on at least half a dozen nukes that could probably pull me into the lead if I was willing to use them. But whether through oversight or an unwillingness to launch a sneak attack like that on my Dad, I don't.

Guess that's just a lesson for another time.

Michael K. Stangeland Jr. is a freelance writer from South Dakota. He sometimes wonders why there's no option to play as an Israeli civilization.

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