This is one of those nostalgic exercises where we are all in danger of convincing ourselves how much better it was in the old days.
Parents used to have to organise an endless supply of car games to keep children from complete meltdown. Children also independently organised far more stupid games which nonetheless ate up highway miles without violence, and were thus tolerated by parents. For my brother and I this was "Ecchhy, echhy." Don't ask.
We have charming stories of the best parts of these games, such as when we were playing "Guess What Is..." ("What is Mom's favorite song? What is Jonathan's favorite piece of clothing?") and Ben sniggered that Dad's favorite color was "White, with coffee stains." But really, there were hours of games, and about ten minutes total of great memories, which is not a good ratio. There was a lot of arguing about cheating in the counting-Christmas-lights game that lies behind the misty-eyed memories we have of childhood.
Quaker Meeting, Twenty Questions, the alphabet game, state license plates (I saw a Northwest Territories polar bear plate while the others were asleep, and only one woke up in time to see it. And actually, I think he was lying about that. Which is fine, as everyone thought I was lying about seeing it in the first place.), various singing games, finding games, and the standard animal game, for which every family had different rules. In our house cat-in-the-window wins the game, and a cemetery on your side cancels all your animals. This latter apparently led to a "Nanna never forgave Gramps for that" moment around 1940, when my grandfather bypassed the cemetery in Center Barnstead and went to Upper Suncook Lake via Ten Rod Road instead. She insisted this was cheating. I'm on Gramps's side, myself. The cemetery was just before the end of the trip, and after a few years of that, one does develop an attitude of why bother to play?
Competitive nastiness goes back a ways in my family.
Children have all sorts of mechanical things to entertain them now, and yes, it might be a real loss to society that we don't make the effort, and interact as a family, with all that creativity, and bonding, and shared experience. We always say how wonderful it is when the power goes out, too, and we burn paraffin lamps and play board games, and vow to do this more often. I am proud of how well we did that aspect of parenting. I would have resorted to individual headphones in a heartbeat.