Parking my yellow convertible on the seventh square, I read the words aloud,
“’Inherit shrunken head collection. Pay $10,000 for museum to accept it.’ Aw, man!”
“Pay up, and quit yer whining!” my brother snickered with sick satisfaction. No matter what game we played, my older brother always appointed himself the banker, setting an immediate tone of domination. The Game of Life was no exception, and he snapped the brightly colored bills out of my hand with a greedy sneer.
Growing up in the 70s with only three television channels and one mind-numbingly monotonous Atari Tennis game, my brother and I relied heavily on board games for entertainment when we weren’t outside chasing each other with sticks. We played Monopoly, Sorry!, Risk, Payday, Clue, Masterpiece, Stratego, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Battleship and other games expressly intended to reward the rich, the ruthless, the lucky, and the intellectually superior.
There were no consolation prizes for the losers – if you lost, you suffered complete destitution and utter humiliation, and we liked it that way. After all, if losing wasn’t so unbearable, why bother winning?
One recent weekend, my kids were draped lazily over our sofa whining, “We’re BORED!” I reminded them of the myriad of bikes, scooters, and athletic equipment lying dormant in our garage, and they sighed. I reminded them of our four televisions with over 200 channels each, and they sighed. I reminded them of the Wii game system complete with guitars, microphones, electronic dance mat, steering wheel and drum set, and they sighed.
Finally, I marched up to their playroom and scanned the stacks of neglected games on the shelves. I spied the current edition of The Game of Life, and plucked it from the pile. Cajoling them with the promise of unhealthy snack foods, the kids agreed to play the game. A few minutes later, I heard their banter at the dining room table.
“’Cycle to work.’ Ooo, I got $10,000.”
“’Support Wildlife Fund.’ Ha! I got $5,000!”
“Wait a minute? What game are you guys playing?” I interrupted. There on our table lay The Game of Life with its characteristic segmented pathway, rainbow spinner, and white plastic buildings. However, upon closer inspection, I could see that this was not the game of my youth.
“What’s this – ‘Countryside Acres?’ What happened to The Poor Farm? And are these minivans? No more convertibles? You get money for recycling now? What’s going on?!”
Determined to alleviate my confusion, I called my mother, who like me is unable to get rid of anything with remotely sentimental value. Sure enough, she found the Game of Life my brother and I used to play in the basement of the 1950s brick ranch of my youth. I asked her to carefully open the brittle old box and read to me from its faded game board.
“Big day at the races. Collect $80,000.”
“Pay $5,000 for toupee.”
“Find Uranium deposit. Collect $100,000.”
“Tornado blows you back to start.”
“Buy raccoon coat. Pay $500.”
“Uncle in jail. Pay $500 bail.
“Buy Rolls Royce. Pay $16,000.”
“REVENGE. Collect $100,000 from any player.”
With each square, fond memories of rainy days spent trying to crush my opponent flooded my mind. Back then, the Rules of Life were clear – get a good job, take care of your responsibilities, make as much money as possible. Sure, every player had to deal with the hard knocks in Life like tornadoes, jury duty, poison ivy, and poor relatives. But if you could manage to get rich, there was no shame in rewarding yourself with yachts and trips to Monte Carlo. To the contrary, wealth was respected and necessary to win at The Game of Life.
Nowadays, players in The New Game of Life get money for planting trees, having family picnics, returning lost wallets, joining health clubs and even making new friends. Nobody goes bald or inherits a skunk farm anymore. Gambling and revenge have been outlawed, and players have ample chances in Life to “Spin again if not in the lead.”
To make matters worse, the old game’s daunting “Day of Reckoning” has now been replaced with an anti-climactic choice between a government subsidized retirement community called “Countryside Acres,” and watered-down Millionaire Estates. No more Poor Farm or risk-taking Millionaire Tycoons. Everyone’s a winner. Frankly, I’m surprised the game doesn’t come with trophies for every player.
Sadly, I said goodbye to my mother and hung up the phone. “Isn’t it bad enough that we no longer have a clear vision of what it means to live the American Dream, but now our children must face the same milk-toast sociology in their board games? What is this world coming to?” I thought to myself.
Just then, I heard a commotion in the dining room, and rushed in to find my son holding his sister in a headlock as she screamed, “You’re just mad ‘cause I beat you again! I’m richer than you are!”
“Whew,” I thought, and was relieved to see that some things in Life will never change.