Screw the Game of Life. Here’s the Real Way to Play It

I never played The Game of Life as a kid. Count it among the many random ways my childhood was deprived of things most normal American kids take for granted.

*Said deprivations include, but are by means limited to: getting something from the ice cream truck  (my cynically paranoid parents saw ice cream trucks as roving salmonella machines run by kidnappers); watching Nickelodeon (my husband is still catching me up on the TV shows and movies a lack of cable kept from me (The Goonies is not nearly as cool when you first see it in your ’30s)); and going to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese (again, the paranoia, with a liberal dash of antisocialness on my parents’ part and meagerness on our finances)).

Maybe if I’d played The Game of Life when I was little, when things like jobs and life insurance policies seemed cool because they were “grownup,” I would have enjoyed it more. But when my husband introduced me to the game recently, I have to say I was disappointed —  and angry, and disturbed.

I guess I expected the game to be more of a choose-your-own adventure, something that lets kids role-play being an adult by making various choices and then seeing what the consequences would be. And there is some of that.  (Don’t want to buy that auto insurance? Guess who just got into an accident!)

But for the most part, I felt like I was being moved along on a conveyor belt, collecting things because I was told to by a random plastic spinner arm.

It didn’t feel like fun; it felt like obeying orders.


I Have to Do What, Now?

What if I didn’t want three little peg-head children? What if I wanted two  (or none at all, more accurately)?

Did I really have to buy a helicopter on my modest teacher’s salary just because that’s the space I landed on? What if I didn’t want a helicopter? I already owned enough things I couldn’t afford, including a house, a business, two horses, and apparently all of my dead aunt’s 50 cats. (Seriously, the SPCA would be all over seizing those things. Zero realism to that scenario.)

Being told what to do and when to do it, and then doing it, isn’t my idea of a super-fun time. When I reached the “Day of Reckoning,” I had the little family of five that had been assigned to me, a collection of ridiculously pricey items, and a life insurance policy to cash in on.

But I didn’t feel any sense of triumph or accomplishment.

All I’d done was check off the boxes I was supposed to, exactly the same as my opponent (although I have to admit he’d done it much more successfully than I had, largely due to the whims of the spinner arm). And now that I’d reached the end, I had nothing to show for it but a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to begin with and the sense of having been pushed through a series of events in which I’d had no say.


Quite frankly, I was hoping for a little more out of Life.


So This Is What It’s Like to Be a Grownup?

I think the reason I resented the game so much (and not because I ultimately lost) was that it’s actually an all-too-accurate depiction of what it’s like to be an adult. And I don’t agree with The Way Things Are in real life, either.

I can accept that sometimes random events (fire, lottery windfall) happen to you when you least expect them. I can also accept the notion of a giant spinner arm of fate/God/what-have-you that grants certain people “luck” and others misfortune on a seemingly random basis. I may be an idealist, but I understand  sometimes the good guy doesn’t always win in the end. (I don’t like it, but I can begrudgingly accept it.)

The thing that bothered me about The Game of Life wasn’t these random ups and downs, but how compulsory it felt. Just like actual grownup life, I didn’t feel like I had much input into how I went about living. I was simply following a preset line, doing what I was supposed to do at the times I was supposed to do it.

I may have more say in the real world over whether or not I buy a helicopter, but there are still plenty of stops along the road of life where you’re expected to do or acquire certain things just because that’s the way most people normally go about it. There’s a generally accepted blueprint for living, and most of us follow it without thinking twice.

Everyone’s board looks a little bit different, but the basic layout is the same: go to college, get a job, get married, have 2.5 kids and a 2.5 car garage house, work 9 to 5 five days a week, keep doing that till you’re 65, and then (if you’re lucky), you reach the end space, where you get to finally relax and just live life (if you have the money and health left to do so). You move along the winding, colorful spaces with everyone else, collecting things at the points you’re supposed to, and that is considered a “life.”

You can tell because other people are guaranteed to notice when you’re not following this blueprint. Not married by your mid-twenties? No kids by your 30s? Have enough for a house, but prefer to rent instead of owning? If you aren’t fielding comments about it from your friends and relatives, you probably have no friends and relatives.


Break Free of the Board

Personally, I have a problem with that. A big problem.

I don’t have a grand master plan for the future, but I can tell you I’m not too enthused about the idea of living my life as a series of checkpoints and to-dos. Especially when they’re someone else’s. (Tweet, tweet!)

I have a to-do list of my own, thank you, and only so much time in which to accomplish it.

I don’t care what I’m “supposed to” have done or “supposed to” have gotten by my 28th year of living. I don’t care where everyone else’s little plastic cars are on the board. This is my life, and there’s an awful lot I’d like to do with it. And none of it will get done if I waste my time trying to make my life conform to the usual pattern.

Which is why I’m taking my little plastic car off road to see what kind of adventures I can come up with beyond the board. I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a lot more fun.

What’s your take on the game of life? Are you ready to off-road it, too?

Image: Flickr

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  • mel

    rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

    (seriously, kell, this post made me want to microwave all my lawyer stuff. well done. i’m looking forward to regular awesomeness.)

  • cordeliacallsitquits

    And it is my mission to provide it to you! Regular awesomeness, that is, not stabbing people with plastic forks. I cannot officially condone stabbing with any sort of object, although the sentiment, and the movie from which it comes, I CAN thoroughly endorse. (I highly recommend “Pump Up the Volume” to anyone who needs a little jolt of fight-the-power inspiration.)

    • My Dear ~ you certainly are succeeding in spades at “providing regular awesomeness”! 🙂
      Thanks for the movie reco, too – I’m in the process of “catching up on missed movies” (among many other things) these days… 😉

  • Good luck with your adventure!

    As a semi-professional “Game of Life” player, I really enjoyed your post.

    My biggest problem with “The Game of Life” is that it no longer contains a “bet it all” option at the end, making the finish much less interesting. I will swear under oath that when I was a kid you could literally “bet the farm” to try to catch up with those doctors and lawyers. To me that is much more realistic.

    -Jeff (friend of mel and josh)

    • cordeliacallsitquits

      Hi, Jeff! I’m so glad you stopped by. I took a look at your blog (excellent name, by the way), and it looks like you do indeed know a little something about playing your own Game of Life. I’m incredibly jealous of your travels!

      You’re right, my husband and I were playing with an older board, and there was an option at the end to bet everything on one number. I’m not sure if it still has that or not. I wound up going for this option because my “lawyer” husband had successfully kicked my tail and I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose. But maybe if I’d had more flexibility in my choices along the way, I might not have felt so desperate? I feel like I could have managed my Game much better if I’d had more say in how I played it.

      Then again, I was the sort of kid who liked to create “house rules” for any game I played so I could work my way around the rules I didn’t like. 😀

  • Carol Spadaccia Kimmerle

    There are plenty of detours and alternative routes on the game board that we can’t always see, and moves that the little plastic spinner doesn’t even consider. Make your own game and enjoy!

    • cordeliacallsitquits

      I’m so glad you’re reading! Welcome!

      I like your philosophy. I completely agree!

  • Darcy F

    Too often life doesn’t give you choices. Things are out of of our control.

    But when you have the options, I wholeheartedly agree that we should
    not feel trapped in the rat race! Fun insights, Kelly! 🙂

    • cordeliacallsitquits

      Thanks, Darcy! It’s so good to hear from you!!

  • Nice start to what looks like it will be an entertaining blog. Your end date of November 2013 is very close to the end date for my nearest goal (mortgage payoff), after which we (my wife and I) will have to figure out what life has in store for us next. Good luck.

    Not sure if you’ve stumbled across this one before or not, but it’s a good read. The author (Jacob) makes many similar points as you throughout his writing.

  • Albert0

    Totally on the right track… or, better yet, off track rightly!
    Super insight — THANKS!


    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference

    • I like that–“off track rightly.” Nice turn of phrase!

  •  Seriously.  We should rebrand the Game of Life for this century.  I’m thinking more a “Game of Life–On Your Own Terms.”  Although we’d have to come up with a slightly snappier title for marketing purposes.  😀

  • This is even more true in 2014 than it was when you wrote it, Kelly!
    Thanks for the “back-to-the-beginning” link!