Saturday, November 29, 2008


I was playing "Life" with my kids yesterday (remember that game that we always wanted to play as kids because of the cars and the 3D gameboard?) and, during the game, I began wondering how much the game is really like life. For instance, I wanted one of the kids to win, so I decided to begin the game without going to college. You always lose if you don't go to college. I realized that is a flaw in the game (though it's a good flaw, in that it subtly encourages kids to 'stay in school').

So, as I recollect the game, here are some ways "Life" is, and is not, like life.

1. You really can't win unless you go to college. In real life, plenty of people make GREAT money without going to college. And plenty of people (most cafe waitstaff) don't make jack.
2. You have to get married.
3. You can't choose to have kids. They're always accidents.
4. The whole point of the game is to have the most money at the end. Sure, the life tokens reward you for doing socially agreeable things like writing books and recycling, but they reward you with money. (Though I am surprised at how much fun the kids have reading what they did to earn that money, so, in a sense, they realize, more than adults do, that the rewards of life are not entirely monetary.)
5. You have to drive a car through the game. Can't we have a green version of "Life," with rickshaws and unicycles?
6. This one's a little technical, but if you start the game getting a degree, you have to borrow money. However, it doesn't matter when you pay it back--the interest payment is the same. You can sit on the loan until the end of the game at no penalty. It would be more realistic to charge more interest as the game wears on, the simulate the pressure young people feel when their student loan payments start.
7. You don't have to pax taxes if you are lucky and land on the right squares.

1. It's fun.
2. The most important decisions are ones you make at the beginning of the game. If you get the doctor card and the $100,000 salary card, you've already pretty much won the game.
3. It trains kids that life is a bunch of payments you don't want to make, but you have to.
4. Buying a stock is no guarantee of a return on investment. It's truly a gamble, just like the market, and you can lose money.
5. This last one is mostly based on the current economic climate: it's nearly impossible to make money on your house. It's just a big money trap.


dave starry said...

Coincidentally I seem to recall playing Life with your daughters at our house a few years back (or maybe I'm thinking of somebody else). This game was always a favorite back when my sisters and I were kids. As with everything, the game has been updated nowadays. I can recall that back then the decision to skip out on college was not such a big deal, and got you on the short track to move on with the rest of your life. Also, a bad spin on the college track might only net you the lowly "bachelor's degree".

Growing up and entering the working world has certainly shattered the illusions this childhood favorite held. As with most toys, it's probably best enjoyed without the intervention of adult logic.

Next on your family's docket should be Careers, wherein the kids can learn that success in life can be achieved with hapiness as much as with assets.

dave starry said...

Aha!...I found it. A picture of the college/business tracks from the edition of Life that I grew up with (published in 1960 -- the 100th Anniversary edition of the game! -- and endorsed by Art Linkletter)...

Similarities to real life: Teachers don't get paid squat. On the other hand, there don't seem to be as many stray circus elephants wandering around as there used to be, and why don't people wear racoon coats any more?!

Eric said...

You reminded me of something else. Teachers are expected to get a second job.

Eric said...

Wow. Looking at the link you posted, it sure seems the game has changed a lot.

dave starry said...

Yes, an initial spin of '5' always presented the quandry of forgoing a shot at the lucrative Doctor's salary to pick up a quick five Gs.

Back then there were no occupation cards either. What you got at the beginning was what you were stuck with for the rest of the game. I no longer have our old family copy, but if you're into vintage board games it's worth trying to find a cheap copy on eBay to make a comparison with the modern version. Just remember to look for Art Linkletter on the box lid.