This past weekend my daughter and I went to Staples to pick up a few office supplies. We had already completely several errands before arriving at Staples, so I was determined to get in and out of the store quickly. When we entered the store, she asked me if she could take me to the aisle where the games were. I told her that we were at Staples and they didn’t sell games. Nevertheless, she insisted so I followed. To my surprise, Staples has a section for board games and other little toys. Somehow, she managed to find this section of the store on her first visit and I’ve been there a million times and have never even seen it.
Staples had a good number of games to choose from; all classics like Sorry, Monopoly, and Scrabble. The game I encouraged her to choose was the game called Life. She had never heard of it before, but I told her I used to play it as a kid and that I think she too would have fun playing it.
As soon as we got home, she wanted to play the game. And of course, being the wonderful father that I am, I happily agreed. For those of you who have never heard of this game, I’ll quickly explain what it is and how it’s played. The game, Life, was created in 1960 and is about the choices you make as you progress through life and how those choices can negatively or positively impact your life as it progresses. To start the game, each person chooses one of two paths. One path is to go to college and the other path is to skip college and start working. Each player than spins a wheel numbered 1 through 10, and whatever number the wheel lands on determines how many spaces you advance on the board. No matter where you land on the board there is some action that happens to you or for you.
Throughout the game there are a number of stop signs on the board where you are forced to stop and make a big life decision. For example, after you get out of college, the next big decision is whether you want to get married or stay single. After that, the next big decision is whether you are going to focus on your career or start a family (side note: I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive, but for the purpose of this game it is). As you advance through the game you get paid your annual salary, which is considerably higher if you choose the college path at the beginning of the game. At certain points of the game you can choose to buy a house, go to night school or even borrow money from the bank. The game has a starting point and an ending point, and it doesn’t matter who reaches the end first. The winner of the game is the one who has accumulated the most wealth when they reach retirement. It’s very simple.
It took my daughter and I about an hour to play the game and throughout the entire course of play I kept thinking about all the parallels to real life that this game captures perfectly. First, throughout the game each player is always moving forward in life; otherwise, they are always getting older. Second, each player is subject to the randomness of life (or luck), which is symbolized by the spinning of the wheel. And lastly, each player is forced to make decisions in their life that substantially impact that player’s long-term personal, professional, and financial position.
When I played this game as a child, I was (obviously) not thinking about the game in this way. But I’m glad I was able to experience it again with my children so I can talk to them about the concepts that I think the creators of this game were attempting to impart. However, if I had to recreate this game, I would make it even more like life real life by having some players start out with more money and assets than others and/or putting some players further ahead or further behind other players on the board. I would also have a wider range of salaries than what they assign in the game and I would also take into account for how this game might be played in other (less fortunate) countries in the world. I could come up with a plethora of ways to design it.
Overall, I like this game a lot. It’s a great game to play with your family because it’s entertaining and educational at the same time. It also provides a window into how other people think and how they make decisions. In some ways, Life is kind of like Monopoly, except that it’s less about dominating the business world and more about how you would design your life with the money you earn. Looking back on the life I’ve lived up to this point, if you gave me the option to be 100 times wealthier and be a bachelor OR be where I am today and have the option of playing board games with my 9-year daughter on a Saturday morning, I would say that playing board games with my amazing and beautiful daughter is the easiest and BEST choice I could have ever made.
Cheers – KM
Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke; The Success Equation by Michael Mauboussin