When an author personifies something, she's giving human qualities to something that isn't human. (Saying that the rain is screaming, for example, is personification: rain can't really scream; it's something that humans do, but by saying that it is, you're adding interest and imagination to your description.)
Tan's use of personification, in particular, is one of the tools that brings her stories to vivid life. Let's check out some examples from "Rules of the Game."
“A light wind began blowing past my ears. It whispered secrets only I could hear.”
Here, Tan personifies the wind, saying that it whispers secrets to Waverly. In this passage, this use of personification conveys the excitement and magic of Waverly’s chess victory being described.
“Seated across from me was an American man, about the same age as Lau Po, maybe fifty. I remember that his sweaty brow seemed to weep at my every move.”
In this description, Waverly’s grown-up American chess opponent has a sweaty forehead that “weeps.” This use of figurative language helps us see not just the visual image of the sweating forehead, but also the sad distress of the chess player who’s being beaten by a little girl.
“Her lips would be sealed tight, and after each move I made, a soft ‘Hmmmmph’ would escape from her nose.”
Waverly describes her mother in this way, saying that the disapproving sound would “escape” from her mother’s nose. By presenting the sound of annoyance and criticism as something that can, like a person, work its way free from restraint, Tan not only characterizes Waverly’s mom as a deeply controlling person but also artfully touches on the theme of the need for personal freedom and escape.