Lessons from the Game of Life

by Stacey

How much can we really learn about the meaning of life from a roll of the dice on a board game? A recent article in the New Yorker explores how games of “life” reveal society’s answers to such questions as, what are we living for? And today’s version, due to come out this summer, is a little unsettling.

In 1860 Milton Bradley invented the Checkered Game of Life. This was the precursor to the modern game called Life that many of us grew up with. Bradley’s game departed from other games of life in one crucial way – it viewed life as a combination of circumstance and shrewd judgement. Other games, such as the New Human Game of Life, assumed the meaning of life was to get to Heaven; whoever dies first wins. In Bradley’s game, the goal was acquisition not salvation. Whoever gets a hundred points first wins and all you get in the end, is Happy Old Age.

Then, in 1960, the Milton Bradley Company released a centennial version of the game called simply, Life.

In Life, players fill teensy plastic station wagons with even teensier pastel-pink and blue plastic Mommies and Daddies, spin the Wheel of Fate, and ride the highway of Life, earning money, buying furniture, and having pink and blue plastic babies. Along the way, there are good patches: “Adopt a Girl and Boy! Collect Presents!” And bad: “Jury Duty! Lose Turn.” Whoever earns the most money wins. As the game’s ad slogan has it, “That’s Life!”

Just for kicks I searched out the 1960s commercial for Life.

Love those glasses. Life was criticized for being too focused on cash, but it’s also disturbing to think that there is only one path to follow and we should all be striving for the same things.

Unlike the Checkered Game of Life, Life is a journey along a (mostly) fixed path, where only one thing matters. [It] is essentially about fate – not whether you are fated to enter Heaven but whether you’re fated to retire to Millionaire Acres.

This summer, a new version of the game is coming out called The Game of Life – Twists & Turns.

The Game of Life: Twists & Turns is not a checkerboard of choices; it’s not a fixed and fated path. There is instead a plethora of paths. The game board is divided into four squares – Learn It, Live It, Love It, and Earn It – through each of which a colored path snakes its way. Players decide how they want to spend their time – going to school, having kids, hanging out, travelling, whatever.

In this game, there are many places to begin, but there’s no end: no Finish, no Happy Old Age, no Heaven. Nothing. “This is actually the game’s selling point,” the author writes, “it has no goal. Life is … aimless.”

Yikes. And apparently there is no moral underpinning. “You get as many points for scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, or for donating a kidney to a loved one, as for getting a PhD.”

Is this the philosophy of our time? Does donating a kidney really not mean anything more to a person than scuba diving? What do you think?

An interesting aside, Milton Bradley himself said at the end of his life that he derived the most satisfaction not from fame or fortune, but from his longtime involvement in the burgeoning kindergarten movement of his time.


1 Comment

Filed under life, play

One response to “Lessons from the Game of Life

  1. annamcclendon

    Life? What is it? If only it was as simple as the game, either with one path or multiple. What happens when there isn’t a path, or you can’t find the path. Of course, that would be too depressing to market… but does it happen? My little brother (age 22) and his girlfriend are pregnant. Initially it was difficult, but he found a path. Now, he is concerned that his girlfriend is drinking while pregnant. No one can find the path. The only path is dark, scary, and full of uncertainties. If only Milton Bradley could give us answers to these predicaments to life.

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