One of the oldest American board games is the “Game of Life.” Players spin a wheel on the board and travel along charted roads in small plastic automobiles according to the number on which the spin stops. Each car has six or eight holes into which pink or blue pegs representing people are added as players “get married” and “acquire children”. Throughout the game are spaces that emulate life, and require players to choose college, career, buying homes, cars, insurance, stocks, taking out loans, paying taxes, among others. Money is constantly exchanged, and when players reach the end of the game and retire in either Millionaires Estate or Countryside Acres, they must repay any loans and add up their assets and cash. The player with the most money in hand wins the game.
When I was a child I played “Game of Life” with siblings and friends. It was the air of being a grown up that enticed us. We could choose a job, college, buy a car and within a few turns get married and have kids — so many kids they didn’t fit in the car. Being an adult was effortless, and life was a game — literally.
Recently, I played “Game of Life” with the grand kids. With some modifications and updates to the game, it still has an attractive appeal to children. The game pulls them in. They are drawn to the two-option choices, the roll of dice revealing their fate, the purchase of properties and pricey items, the spin of the wheel, the trivial decision of a second home between the Dream Villa or the City Penthouse and the final measure of success… winning with the most amount of money.
As an adult, something about the game bothered me. It felt compulsory. I realized that even with all the choices available, I didn’t feel like I had much input into how I went about living. I was simply following preset rules of doing what I was supposed to do at the times I was supposed to do them. What if I didn’t want three children? What if I wanted none at all? Did I really have to buy a yacht on my modest teacher’s salary just because that’s the space I landed on? What if I didn’t want a yacht? In the game, I already owned enough things I couldn’t afford, including two homes, a business, a horse, and apparently all of my great uncle’s antiques. When I reached the end of the game I had a family of five that had been assigned to me, a collection of ridiculously pricey items, and a life insurance policy to cash in on which didn’t give me any sense of triumph or accomplishment. But this is a game with a set of rules.
As a grown woman and in the real world, I know I have more say in whether or not to buy a yacht, but there are still plenty of stops along the road of life where I’m expected to acquire or do certain things just because that’s the accepted general blueprint for living, and most of us follow it without thinking twice. In real life, if all I do is choose to follow the charted blueprint path, how will I ever open myself to moments of discovery? Those moments of spontaneity like walking in the rain, noticing the shedding of bark on the eucalyptus tree, or sitting on a sidewalk and marveling at the one seedling growing in the dirt between cracks in the concrete. And what about the show of kindness and love by people who influence me and build on my journey in the real world? Friends? Family? The “Game of Life” is fun as a child, but the underlying motivation that drives the player’s actions is money. (Perhaps that’s why I seldom won the game, as I am not of the conviction that “whoever has the most gold, wins.”) No amount of money or material validation will ever take the place of what you can achieve out of pure love exchanged in real life.
In the real world, you have roughly 33,000 days to play the “game” of life. When the end of the day rolls around, how will you decide whether you won or lost? By money amassed, or by who and what put a smile on your face and lit up your heart to keep the embers of your soul on fire? Will you measure your wins by money? Or by the beauty of human connections that help build on your journey through life?
How will you decide?