Our daughter gave birth to her firstborn this week, a precious little bundle with rosy cheeks and strawberry blonde hair. For her and her husband, life has changed forever. And for our granddaughter, barely two days old now, every sight and sound will be a complete and utter mystery. In other words, her game of life has only just begun.
I was only nine or ten myself when I started playing at life. Not real life, of course, but the board game in a box by Milton Bradley . “Life” (as we simply called it back then) was a significant rung up on the board game ladder. Once discovered, “Don’t Break the Ice”, “Hi Ho! Cherry O”, “Chutes and Ladders”, and the well-worn “Candy Land“stayed on the shelf forever. Win or lose, “Life” was a ton of fun pretending to be an adult. After all, we kids had no idea what we were doing.
The genius of “Life”, like “Monopoly”, is that its players are too young to understand what they’re playing at. In Monopoly, you buy and sell real estate, mortgage properties, and pay income tax, and somehow all of this is “fun” (especially when you win and become the one and only landlord in town).
In “Life”, you’re making decisions ten or fifteen years ahead of your time. I find it ironic “Life” is a game for kids yet it skips the entire chapter of childhood. The first move is to “Start a Career” or “Start College” (you choose). If you start college you “Borrow $100,000 from the bank”, so you’re already saddled with debt. You pay taxes or get a refund. You earn raises or sometimes lose your job. Wait, this is fun? You bet it is. You’re a kid and you don’t know the meaning of “responsibilities”.
Eventually, the colorful cardboard path of “Life” takes you by a church, where you get married and add a spouse peg to your car. Soon after you have babies (more pegs) and soon after that you buy a house. The meandering path continues, until it stops “years” later at either “Millionaire Estates” (you’re rich!) or “Countryside Acres” (you’re not!)
When “Life” is over, it’s time to account for your accomplishments, which means simply adding up all of your cash. The player with the most money wins. Wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation with St. Peter? Hey Pete, I won The Game of Life because I had the most money! Open up the gates – I’ve earned my entry!
“The Game of Life” has evolved since it was first produced many years ago. My childhood plays were on the 1960s version, which included a folding rectangular board with the wandering path for the cars, little plastic mountains you’d pass through at the corners, little plastic buildings you’d pass by here and there, and, smack-dab in the middle, a giant spinning numbers wheel to determine how far your car would go on any given turn.
The 1960s version also had insurance policies, promissory notes, and stock certificates. Art Linkletter, who promoted the board game on TV, smiled out at you from the center of the $100,000 bills. Finally, your choices on your final “Day of Reckoning” were “Millionaire Acres” or “Poor Farm”, depending on the size of your bank account. But even before you chose “Poor Farm” you had a last-gasp chance to win the game by betting all of your money on the numbers wheel.
The newest version of “Life” seems the same, with the little mountains and plastic buildings and giant numbers wheel. But look closer and you’ll find the game is delightfully “PC” now. You can perform “community service” or “good deeds” (which translate to monetary value at the end). Your career choices include less traditional vocations like “Hair Stylist” and “Athlete”. Your housing includes a mobile home or a “luxurious mountain retreat”. You can even sue other players to the tune of six figures. Today’s kids might actually understand that aspect of the game.
Finally, in a full-on nod to modern times, “Life” wants you to know it’s “Your Life, Your Way”. Accordingly, you can choose pets instead of kids. And the little people pegs are no longer just pink or blue because… you know.
Here’s the last word on “Life”. The corner of the box top gleefully shouts, “Now with one-time assembly!”, meaning as soon as you put the mountains and buildings and spinner into place, the board is good to go every time you play it. Now what fun is that? Just like “Mouse Trap”, half the enjoyment of “The Game of Life” was putting the whole thing together. At least we kids understood how to do that. As for what the game itself represented? Not so much.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.