Toronto Star

Popular game helps women at shelter

If You Had to Choose is fun way for groups to ponder and discuss what they want out of life

- JUDY GERSTEL LIVING REPORTER

“Having this game,” wrote C., after playing the board game about priorities called If You Had To Choose, “does not only help us understand our personal lives but it helps us dream big.” When you’re living at a women’s shelter and your life is a nightmare, dreaming big and thinking about possibilit­ies isn’t just a pleasant way to pass the time — it’s a necessity. Maybe that’s why If You Had To Choose has become a favourite game of women at Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter. “It’s not based on your past experience but on what you’d like your life to be,” explains Tanya Lee, skills co-ordinator at Ernestine’s. “You get to start your life over. You can havewhatev­eryouwant—butwhat would you be willing to do or to give or to lose to gain that?” All the questions on game cards, selected at random by the players, offer a choice between two alternativ­es, each with an advantage and disadvanta­ge. Game inventor Susan Morry says one question that resonates with the women at Ernestine’s, all of whom left abusive partners, asks, “Would you rather be rich but never find true love — or never make much money your entire life but meet your soulmate?” Morry, a Torontonia­n, has played the game with the women at Ernestine’s. She says the women invariably choose love over money. “They say, ‘Yes, you can have a spouse who pays the bills, but if there’s no love there, forget it. It’s not worth it. ‘I would rather live in a financiall­y unstable situation, even for my children, than to be with someone who doesn’t give me and my children love.’ ”

“These are probably questions that people should be thinking about anyhow,” says shelter administra­tor Sharlene Tygesen.

She says the women will talk about how they’re missing their partners — but not the abuse. Or they’ll say wistfully, “I wish I were still at home because we had a really nice house and everybody thought he was wonderful and that we had this perfect family . . .”

And If You Had To Choose is popular with them because it’s all about making tough decisions and weighing choices but in a safe, fantasy situation.

Also, says Lee, “It’s a lot of fun. We just laugh and laugh. And you get to know things about people. You think you know them and you’re shocked at the unexpected answers.”

For example, the response to this question: Would you rather be breathtaki­ngly beautiful but have to go to prison for five years or always be plain looking but never go to jail?

Some women chose being beautiful, much to the surprise of Lee and Tygesen.

“But for somebody who may have been told her whole life about how they look (terrible),” says Tygesen, “five years (in prison) might be a reasonable compromise.”

Morry, meanwhile, is thrilled that the game she invented is not only selling well — 7,000 games have been sold in three years and it’s one of the Top 5 games on barnesandn­oble.com — but also that it’s useful.

“Nothing is more rewarding and satisfying than knowing you’ve created a product that actually helps people,” she explains.

Morry, it seems, didn’t have to choose between becoming successful or helping others.

 ??  ?? The cover of the If You Had to Choose game poses one of the questions that players must answer.
The cover of the If You Had to Choose game poses one of the questions that players must answer.

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