No One Won The Game of Life

The Game of Life

When I was a kid, my favorite game was The Game of Life. I mean, really, what’s not to like. It has little cars and baby blue stick figures for men and pink stick figures for women. You can go to college if you want. You can get a good job (which you keep for life — a charming assumption that was even then unraveling). You had children. You could speculate on the stock market. And it had that cool spinning wheel for making your moves. I loved it and I played it hundreds of times with friends and siblings. But the funny thing is that no one ever won the game.

The way you win The Game of Life is by having more money than anyone else at the end. So if you think you have enough money, you just stop when you reach the end of the board. But if you don’t think you have enough money, you can bet everything you have on one spin of the wheel. If you pick the right number, I think you get ten times as much money; if not, you end up in the poor house. Now I know all this, but it is not how we played. We all risked it all at the end and we never counted money.

The point is that none of us seemed to care about the outcome of The Game of Life. It was fun to play and that was about all. I was much the same way with Monopoly, but not with as many people. That game is much more combative. But I played it a lot with one friend where we would play Monopoly until we had built our little empires and then we would call a truce. The only thing I get aggressive about is the piece I use. I really like the Terrier.

But it was only the other day that I realized that it isn’t kids who are all excited about winning games and getting trophies. This is something that is mostly forced on them by adults.

The reason I bring this all up is that for years I’ve been hearing men (Always men!) complain about tee-ball games not keeping score and how everyone gets a trophy for participating in everything and blah blah blah. There are a lot of people who think there must be a point to everything. Why would you ever play a basketball game if it wasn’t to win?! Of course, if that’s really the case, then why does anyone ever watch a basketball game all the way through? Why not just show up for the second half of the fourth quarter?

But it was only the other day that I realized that it isn’t kids who are all excited about winning games and getting trophies. This is something that is mostly forced on them by adults. Kids play games because they are fun to play. There really is no other point to them, unless you want to look at it in a developmental sense — games help us to improve and develop.

The same thing, of course, is true in education. I don’t recall ever meeting a child that didn’t delight in learning. Just the same, I’ve known lots of children who hated school. I was one of them! But there has been a big push in recent years to take an educational system that was pretty bad and turn it into one that is even worse. Because again, adults think that education is about the goal: getting a good job. And that ain’t education.

It would be great if everyone who wants to turn children into little goal-oriented automatons could have watched the way my siblings and friends played The Game of Life or, I’m quite sure, the way most kids play it today. If the journey is not worth taking, the goal will not help, since the goal of the “game of life” is death.

37 thoughts on “No One Won The Game of Life

  1. “Why would you ever play a basketball game if it wasn’t to win?”

    To play well, of course, to “get in the zone”. Experiencing that harmony is its own reward. Everything one does is a dance, including competitive pursuits. But that’s the opposite of current American culture, which fetishizes competition, where everything in life is a “market” and the object is to win at any cost. The main goal of this mindset is dominance — causing others to lose and be humiliated.

    A classic example of this behavioural dichotomy occurs on metro interstates during heavy traffic. Interstate highways were designed to be a cooperative system. I was actually taught this somewhere along the way, maybe from one of those Disney educational shorts of the 50’s and 60’s. Unfortunately, some (most?) people don’t understand. They go out of their way to block others from changing lanes or merging and are constantly hopping back and forth trying to be “ahead” of everyone else. Their behaviour creates waves in traffic which are the opposite of the smooth flows the highways were designed to enable. As a result, the whole system slows to a crawl until no-one is going anywhere.

    • My least favorite is the lane closure — where signs say “right lane closed ahead” and most drivers merge into the left lane. There’s always jerks who zoom up the empty right lane to the point where it’s closed, and expect someone to let them in (someone always does, so this behavior is rewarded.)

      I learned a fun trick from a truck driver and used it at my old job where I drove a huge van (you need a huge vehicle to pull this off, few people will try to sneak around huge vehicles.) In these situations, I’d position the van between lanes. This presented no obstacle to the drivers who’d merged into the left, while preventing anyone trying to cut in on the right from advancing. The drivers trying to cut in line would always honk constantly, and it would make me smile to know how annoyed they were. Down with cheaters!

    • I completely agree with you about the first part. Doing anything well is much like meditation: it is a form of focus. The desire to win is about hierarchy and is not something I care about. When I played chess seriously, I wasn’t interested in winning; I was interested in improving; it was about mastery. Even if you become the greatest chess player in the world, you haven’t “arrived.” There is no destination. A related issue is the chess computer. People get very concerned about machines beating humans. But machines don’t play chess the way that humans do. And no one thinks running a marathon is pointless because they could just drive faster. It is in our nature to do things just for the pleasures they bring. It’s one of the best things about us.

      But when it comes to driving, I think people are amazingly cooperative. It’s just that we notice the people who are jerks. It all comes back to the 95/5 rule. 5% of the people cause 95% of the problems. But there is something about cars that makes pretty impatient. People should walk more. I hate driving.

  2. We never did that end spin thing. Until now, I didn’t even know it was in the rules.

    But since I don’t disagree with any of this-did you ever get Cards Against Humanity?

    • I’m not sure what it was. But there was a turn off to the poor house. But it didn’t look bad to me — nice white building.

      • One day you will remember these things I tell you. ONE DAY.

        The poor house was nice because we never bothered to make it realistic. And now we have all sorts of different versions of the Game of Life. I have the My Little Pony one!

        • What did I forget?

          My concern is that The Game of Life has changed for the worse to make it more competitive and realistic. I get enough reality from reality.

          • Cards Against Humanity which I keep pestering you to get since I know you will like it.

            As for the new version of the Game of Life, not the My Little Pony one. The goal is to end the game with as many friends as possible by helping them all out along the way.

  3. When you play playground basketball, there’s a code everyone adheres to: fairness first. Of course you want to do well. But if your three-person team is badly outgunned by the other three-person team, someone will switch sides to make the matchup more competitive. Nobody wants a series of wipeout games. Fouls are called by the player with the ball, strictly on the honor system; if I say you fouled me, we start the play again. Anyone who wants to play can; if there’s more than ten players or an uneven number of players, you get in line for the next game.

    What’s interesting about playground code is that there’s very little shaming. Players will boast of their skills and vow to best their opponents, but it’s uncool to beat up on someone smaller/less skilled than you. As opposed to, say, PE class, where instructors often encourage kids to mock the least gifted. On the playground, I couldn’t dribble worth a damn but still I’d get the occasional pass when open and encouragement like “that’s your shot!” (Meaning about the only shot I could make!) In school PE, I was terrible at many sports (I could hit softballs fairly well) and kids would snicker when I was picked last for whatever sport we were playing. It’s why a lot of kids basically zone out during PE, and why unless the instructor is genuinely kind there’s no point to these classes at all. (The kids getting the most exercise are the ones already into sports, the ones who aren’t, don’t.)

    • I don’t know what the stated mission of public school physical education is, but clearly team sports fails in that setting at anything it might be trying to accomplish. I would be hard pressed to design a program that did more to make children hate the idea of physical fitness and athletics.

    • Interesting. I had never thought of picking teaming as being about that. But there is something humiliating about having everyone line up in a row. But people playing do want a good game, not a crushing victory. It reminds me of this video about happiness:

      • Except for basketball, team sports tend to involve mostly standing around waiting for the next play. Especially if you have players who really don’t know the game. So they’re not much good for fitness. Weight training, cardio, boxing, racquetball, and maybe tennis are better to get people active and moving. Although tennis takes more skill. It’s easier to lose tempo. But even I used to be able to play racquetball. And I could have got onboard with a PE program like that, even though the cardio is the peas on that plate.

        • Tennis is the only game I was ever any good at. I assume I could have made the high school team if I had been the type. It is a very fun game to play. I remember in graduate school getting involved in a basketball game with some first year students. I was a grand old man, about to graduate. It about killed me. The constant back and forth movement is exhausting. You get the same thing in tennis, but I was much younger then!

  4. The everybody gets a trophy meme is hugely irritating. I posit to also be mythical, or at least wildly exaggerated. And it is 30 years past it’s sell date. But it is the sort of thing that will not die in the minds of conservatives. It is a nightmare image of imaginary liberals defiling the sacred temple of that which turns boys into Men. And this is a temple that stinks of mold, and ballsweat, and bullying, and homoeroticism, and completely worthless honors. To James’ point, gym class is where you go to get bullied by a bitter meathead with a whistle around his neck, who wears those fucking shorts like they were a sausage casing, and who takes out his frustrations that he wasn’t good enough to make the college varsity squad on the awkward kids. And when you think it couldn’t get more humiliating, god damn square dancing. I wish cancer on those responsible. So what’s the appeal for Fox Nation? Hierarchy. The belief that humans should exist in unequal hierarchies is the DNA of conservatism. Hat tip Corey Robin. So when you try to make anything more humane, in the present case of doing something to make athletics approachable and rewarding to the youngest and the less talented, because there’s always college for telling them to play on a broken ankle, it’s the end of civilization and all that is good and true.

    • OMG, square dancing. I’d forgotten that.

      Because it involves switching partners, square dancing meant that at some point you would end up holding hands with the girl you had a massive crush on. Inadvertent boner city. Being 13 stinks!

        • The 80s, but yeah, it was. We actually did square dancing in PE. We ran the 1.5 M every Tuesday and Thursday, right after lunch, so on hot days the track had little piles of vomit every few yards. PE was so horrible.

          • Must have been the early eighties since square dancing was a thing that we did at about eight. And it was fun!

            • Yeah, that’s the only time it showed up for us. It might be a California thing more than a time period.

                • I’ve heard a lot of people talk about square dancing in high school, and we never had such a thing. That’s why I’m thinking that. But our square dancing was in the 4th or 5th grade.

                    • Policy is pretty consistent. And these kind of things used to not be controversial. Now the Republicans would probably say that square dancing was implicitly anti-gun or PC or something.

    • Oh, and the “everybody gets a trophy” meme is so noxious. America, land where compassion=weakness. Like awarding the greatest lives to the most competitive among us has resulted in a magic Eden.

    • That’s right. The conservative idea is that the way things are — the current hierarchy — is right. They used to claim it was the way God wanted it. Now they use meritocracy. It’s all nonsense.

      For the record: square dancing (which he did in the fifth grade) was the only PE sort of thing I ever liked. It goes along with my enjoyment of systems.

      • I was a fat kid, and that was before there were many of them. So when partnering up at least ten of the girls in line would make a great protest about having anything to do with me before one of the teachers put a stop to it.

        • There are adults, unfortunately, who regard shaming and bullying to be a useful education in themselves; they “toughen kids up” and “prepare them for the real world.” Whether this is true of the victims, I can’t say (it didn’t make me a tough successful adult) but it’s assuredly terrible for the aggressors. Kids are going to try out every type of behavior and social interaction extreme, from cruel to kind; that’s what kids do. It’s the job of parents and teachers to rein in the socially unacceptable behavior. You wouldn’t encourage a child to totrure animals (although I have met adults who find that funny.)

          At least it sounds like some of your teachers did their jobs!

  5. Regarding the conservative dislike of participation trophies, it all makes sense in light of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers.” The “elite” players in youth sports are usually born shortly after the age cutoff date for their league. So it means that conservatives want rewards to be based on the randomness of birth, which all makes sense, from what we know about conservatives.

    • That’s fascinating. So kids who are 9 months older are, not surprisingly, 9 months more developed. You don’t happen to have an article link on that, do you?

      • That’s basically it. Youth sports start to track the best player around 8 to 10 years of age. At that age, having up to an 11 month age advantage is huge so the stand outs tend to be born shortly after the annual age cutoff date.

        Gladwell gives a pretty good interview about that and the general misunderstands that exist regarding meritocracy.

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