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The Game of Life as a metaphor for living.

The Game of Life as a metaphor for living.

Since Colleen was off work tonight, we decided to give the kids their presents tonight. Tomorrow evening, after she gets off work, they’ll do presents again with the extended family on her side, and then the next day with their dad and his family. I always marvelled at Christmas when I was a kid. A product of divorce myself, I knew something at a very young age: the Jews don’t have nothing on goy divorce-Christmas celebrations. Sure, they get 8 days of gifts from their family. But we have road trip after road trip, hotel stays, and at least three nights of presents–not to mention Santa Clause.

After hearing Kya, the oldest, spend the last twelve months begging for a cell phone, all the while telling her that she cannot have a cell phone until she’s dating, (understand she’s 12), we decided to teach her that most American of lessons: whine loud enough and people will give you your way, if only to shut you up. Yes, our twelve-year old has a cell phone. The younger ones got a series of board games (all per request) and will get gifts from Santa that are sure to make the easy-bake recipes given tonight make much more sense. (“Don’t worry, Gabbie. We don’t know why, but Santa called and told us we should buy you easy-bake meals. I wonder why?”)

After spending the better part of ten minutes setting up the board, sticking stickers, and otherwise reading rules, we embarked on the first trip around the looping yellow squares of Parker Bros. “Game of Life”. Anyone who played Life as a child should throw everything you know about game play out the window. Parker Bros. has ‘improved’ the game, with new features and new rules that have transformed the Game of Life into a fitting metaphor for living.

Gameplay goes as follows. First, you have to set up the board *every time*. The houses, spinning wheel, bridges, and mountains all fall off the board every time you close it because of poor design, meaning that every time you play, you have to reconstruct the game. Don’t loose the instructions, because the houses and bridges are remarkably similar in size and, without the reference map, you’re liable to wedge a mountain where a bridge goes or put the wrong house in the wrong place. After putting the board together, everyone spins to see who goes first. Much like the real world, the highest number gets the prize. You have to then decide if you’re going to go to college, and fall hopelessly and irrevocably into debt (by borrowing $100,000 before you graduate), or start your career.

It is here that the first major parallel takes place: you pull your career and your salary out of a deck of cards. If the colors match, you get to keep them. If not, you keep drawing until the colors do match. Anyone who has recently entered the workforce will immediately recognize this as the time when you pull your career out of your ass, your employer throws a number at you, and if you decide you’re paid enough to put of with other people’s shit, you stay. If not, you pull another job out of your ass and start over.

So you spin, passing paydays, getting married at the prescribed time. The game still has it’s hard stops. No matter what you want to do you will still have to get married–whether you want to or not. Your choice is irrelevant. You don’t even get to pick your bride. I want to ask my gay friends if, when they play, they put a same-colored peg into their plastic cars or if they decide not to be too out and chose an opposite colored partner-peg? Given the state of our great nation, their preference of spouse is largely irrelevant, so I’m betting they put a member of the opposite sex in the car. The rules don’t mention anything about same-sex partnerships, so I’m assuming Parker Bros. has ruled this one out.

One of the new additions to the game is life tiles. You land on a square with a particular big event (having children for example–which is completely by luck. You don’t get to chose this one either), and take a ‘life tile’. On the small, (we’re talking microscopic cat snacks if you leave the game out too long), there are impossible dreams that you have ‘fulfilled’ like running a world-record mile or winning a Pulitzer. The kinds of things that we all say we’d like to do but aren’t willing to give up reruns of “Friends” to accomplish. And you collect these for later in the game.

Buying a house is as complicated a process as it is in real life. There are rules, there are new denominations, and it’s all so frustratingly complicated that the children who are playing learn the most valuable lesson in life: because of pointless rules, life is so mundanely complex .

Think about it the next time you’re playing The Game of Life. Think of all the false expectations that we set up for our kids when we talk about college and jobs and work and kids and houses and retirement. We don’t talk about term papers, long hours, co-workers, labor pains, house notes, insurance, prostate exams and funeral expenses and, when they finally learn of these things, its too late for them to go back and decide they would have been better off playing Twister.

Happy Holidays, guys. I’m still young enough to know a good choice when I see one. I’m going to go play Twister with the kids.