WHADDAYOU WANNA DO?

"I dunno, whaddayou wanna do?" came the answer.

And so on.

It was still quite early, after dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, and the evening's remaining entertainment options were discussed: a movie? Watch videos? Go home?

I suggested Monopoly. Big silence.

But Bob agreed quickly, and after much wheedling and bullying, Mark was coaxed into it. "I hate games," he kept whining, even as we were setting up the board, counting out the money and rolling for position.

Play began and was (pleasantly) interrupted often, for refreshments, and more often by bargaining, tangential discussions and the all-out arguments that are the inevitable byproduct of game-playing.

And by the end of the cutthroat game, Mark, the reluctant player, had become a gimlet-eyed, gleeful capitalist, making ruthless deals and sweeping the board.

When it was all over, he asked, "When can we play again?"

"As teens and young adults, we have this behavioral bugaboo that says, 'I'm too old to play games,' director of product planning and marketing research for Parker Bros. Inc. "Or we say, 'Games aren't in because they're for kids,' or, 'As a parent, I'm obligated to play games with my kids.' The game industry is trying to find ways to say it's OK to play."

And succeeding: This country is in the middle of a great big game boom.

"People weren't really into games" three years ago, when Patty Lapasset, 20, started working at The Game Boutique, FAO Schwartz's adult game shop at White Flint Mall. "So we had to stock really stupid things, like rubber dinosaurs and Gumbys," Lapasset says.

Then came Trivial Pursuit, and "all of a sudden everyone had to play games," Lapasset says. The still-depleted shelves of the store testify to the frenzy of the Christmas game-buying rush.

Lapasset, who used to work at Bloomingdale's, "spraying perfume on people," took a job at The Game Boutique for the fun of it. It certainly helped that Lapasset loves games, having graduated from an adolescent crush on Clue to the more sophisticated Diplomacy. "Now I wish someone would invite me to one of those murder mystery parties," Lapasset says.

"Gaming isn't just going and passively watching a movie or something -- people are getting into the spirit and fun of doing something," says Anne Jaffe, editor of the Washington-based Game News magazine. Jaffe, who claims to play all of the new games that pile up on her desk, doesn't go in for big theories about why humans play games. "It's because they're F-U-N, in big capital letters. And that's always the bottom line," Jaffe says.

"If life's not fun, what's the point?" agrees John Nason, marketing vice president of Selchow & Righter, the country's oldest game company and creator of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. "It's a very impersonal world out there, all high-tech and steel- and-glass and computers. And I think board games are bigger than ever now, because they break down all those barriers and suddenly you're face to face with real people again. We've really come full circle, back to people playing with people."

"The playing of games has undergone a lot of metamorphoses," says Campbell of Parker Bros., one of this country's Big Three game manufacturers, along with Milton Bradley (Candyland) and Selchow & Righter (the Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit people). In its 100 years, Parker Bros. has published more than 1,150 games.

"Let's go back to the '70s," Campbell says, retracing America's recent reinfatuation with games. "We saw a softening of the market for traditional board games with the advent of battery-operated, handheld electronic games, which were certainly more exciting to kids than standard games. Next came the electronically enhanced board games, like Electronic Battleship, Stop, Thief! and Monopoly Playmaster. Those had a relatively short lifespan because of the dawning of video games.

"They brought electronic technology into the home, with the graphic appeal of television, and that industry went from literally zero to over a billion-dollar industry. And nothing has come down quite as fast, either."

The video and computer games meant a tremendous amount of money was drained from traditional games. It also meant a lonely kind of game player, just man against machine.

So, perhaps inevitably, next came what the game industry is calling a "return to basics" in the family game area, spurred in 1984 by the introduction of Trivial Pursuit.

"That very unusual game broke a lot of rules," Campbell says, "as Monopoly did in 1935. There was no beginning and no ending -- you could almost play forever. It was three times more expensive than regular board games and it expanded the 'gam' category and reclaimed a whole new adult market."

Campbell says one of the principal reasons for TP's success is that "it is not a game, it is an adult socializer, a game secondarily." With more than 70 Trivia-type items on the market, the appetite for pursuing trivia has declined, and once again, we're back to the basic basics, Campbell says. (Campbell's personal favorite, by the way, is . . . Monopoly.)

"I think people are planning evenings around games now," says Lapasset, "so the murder mystery games are real popular. The sex games sell well, too -- every time we get Dr. Ruth's game (Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex), we sell it out in a week."

Agreeing with Campbell that trivia has "sort of been beat to death," Lapasset says electronic games are on the outs, too, nodding toward a sale shelf filled with Cosmic Commander games, marked down from $50 to $15. "The classic games are coming back strong," Lapasset says: "chess, backgammon, and even mah-jongg."

Game News editor Jaffe says role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons, are experiencing the biggest growth, with murder mystery and discussion-type games continuing to proliferate. A crop of adventure and horror-themed board games combined with VCR technology are the newest stars in the game universe, Jaffe says.

Of course, no matter how much gamemakers change the technology and techniques, the players stay the same. An evening spent around the board has a tendency to bring out hidden character traits -- the whiners, the gloaters, the latent child in everyone -- and it's cheaper than analysis or group therapy.

In fact, you could look at games as vicarious living: They're speeded-up and simplified versions of human events, in which the players control their fates. It has been suggested that through games, players release their aggressions in a socially acceptable way.

Poor sports, rule-benders and (gasp!) cheaters will always be part of the game. Everyone has a story about his little brother tipping over the board when someone else bought Boardwalk. A friend confesses that if her husband is winning at Trivial Pursuit, she reads him the wrong question (usually the hardest one on the card). Another woman says, "My husband and I can't even play Trivial Pursuit together. He takes it so seriously, and I tend to laugh when he gets the wrong answers."

And as for Mark, the reluctant game-player who made the abrupt about-face on Monopoly, a veteran gamer has this advice: "Just don't let him near Diplomacy or Risk or Lie, Cheat and Steal. He could end up ruling the world."