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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #74: The Game of Life

Get one!

The Game of Life is one of those staple board games that populates a closet or basement shelf in every suburban home. It's ubiquitous if banal, like Scrabble or Risk or Monopoly. A number seven hitter in the lineup, not enough speed or power to rank further up, but solid enough that you can't ignore it altogether. It was America's first "parlor" game, though the version first promulgated by innovator Milton Bradley at the dawn of the Civil War bears scant resemblance to the modern version we all think we know so well.

The picture iteration, from 1985, is the one we played most often. You know the drill - go to school or not, get married or not, have kids or not. Get paid, hopefully. Retire in some comfort. Along the way, try to encounter good fortune rather than bad, accumulate wealth, maybe gamble a little. Jesus, no wonder this gam was so popular in the years after WWII. It's a Boomer parable, a hazy halcyon paean to the American Dream that once sort of was. Work hard, take your chances, and Millionaire Estates awaits. It's all bullshit, of course. It's worth laughing about because I can clearly remember playing in high school with friends who already knew it was bullshit. We played Speed Life, where it wasn't about accumulation but acceleration - skip the marriage, the kids, get to the end first. I can't think of anything more Gen X nihilistic than that.

Since then I've softened a bit on life and Life, though the absurdity of the central premise remains. A few years back we played an updated version with our own kids, and the real fun was in creating the narratives and backstories for our little blue or pink plastic avatars. We had a corrupt cop who took bribes, a gay couple addicted to adopting children and adding cars to their caravan, and more. I guess, after all, Life is what you make of it.

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