When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was The Game of Life.
If you were a kid in the 80s, you probably played it too. You gave the spinner a whirl, drove your little plastic car around, and “lived” life – picking career or college, getting married, having kids, buying insurance, upgrading your house, etc.
It was fun because it let you pretend to be an adult while you were a kid. (what we really need is The Game of Being a Kid – I'll trade being told to eat my vegetables if I don't have to write TPS reports)
Here's something I realized much much later – the Game of Life kind of messed me up for actual life.
We go through life with invisible scripts and limiting beliefs. Invisible scripts, a term I learned from Ramit Sethi, are those beliefs that are “pre-written by our societal values.” Limiting beliefs, which seem to go hand in hand with invisible scripts, are those beliefs that constrain us in some way.
The Game of Life is one massive invisible script for how you should Real Life.
That's why I won't let my kids play The Game of Life.
There are more than two paths
In The Game of Life, there is only one major life altering decision you can make – Start College or Start Career. It starts at the beginning and it determines your income for (potentially) the remainder of the game. There are “Trade salary card with any player” boxes you can land on but those were added later to balance out the game, there's no Real Life equivalent.
If you go to college, you are saddled with $100,000 of debt but you could get a career with a higher salary. There are 9 careers and only 2 careers (Doctor, Accountant) require a college degree. Let's ignore the other mechanics of the game (how paydays are determined, other benefits like the Computer Consultant gets paid $50,000 anytime the spinner stops between numbers or comes off the track) but the basic premise is that to get a higher pay day you need to go to college.
Jobs are a matter of supply and demand. If you have skills that in demand, you can command a higher salary. If you have skills that are in abundance, you can't.
It also ignores how often someone can change careers at any time. What you decide at the beginning of the game does not set your path for life. You can always add to your skill set. What you decide in your twenties is not your lot in life.
(By the way, there's a space where you pay $5,000 for spring break if you go to college — that alone should disqualify this game from Real Life!)
The goal isn't money
The goal of The Game of Life is to “Collect money and LIFE tiles, and have the highest dollar amount at the end of the game.”
As if Real Life were so simple!
Money is important but is it the objective of life? If you were to ask someone who was ambitious, hungry, and 20 — money seems all important.
Ask someone who is 40. 50. 80. Has two kids. Found a partner. Lost a partner.
Money takes on a different meaning.
When I was deciding what to study in college, the number one factor was the career prospects of that field. I chose Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University because your chances were pretty good. No disrespect to other majors but in 1998, computer science at a premier university was your meal ticket. It helped that I enjoyed the problem solving and tinkering but the #1 overriding factor was money.
Graduate and I could get paid that sweet sweet startup money!
As I write this today, at 35 with two kids and barely into what I consider my “real adulthood,” money is a means to an end. I want enough to support our lives but so many things are ahead of money in importance. My post about Why Do You Work? is one of the most popular on the site because it's a question we all want to understand about ourselves.
Life is more than just work. It's family, it's friends, it's holidays, it's free time, and so many other hours not captured in the 40+ of work.
The Game of Life's objective might be to have the most money, but in my Real life the objective is something very different. When you think back to the happiest moment from last year, what do you think about? It's probably not seeing a direct deposit line item in your bank account. 🙂
Investing isn't gambling
The Stock Market mechanic is pure insanity. At the start of any turn, you can buy a stock for $50,000. The stock has a number and any time a player spins that number, you collect $10,000 from the bank. You can only own one stock and if there's a Stock Market Crash (someone lands on it), you lose one stock.
I realize The Game of Life has to do something to try to capture this idea and the idea of index funds and 8% gains every turn is decided un-sexy, but straight up gambling? And you can buy only one stock? You can't sell the stock and get paid tax-free dividends?
I want my kids to learn that investing looks like it's a lot of craziness, especially if you turn on CNBC and catch an animated Jim Cramer, but it's actually quite boring. Invest your retirement and/or savings (you don't need for 5+ years) in the stock market through a low cost index fund, watch it grow over time (or more like don't watch it spike and drop), and sell when the time comes. Zzzzzzz.
But Zzzzzz is smart and it's better to be smart than entertained. 🙂
Getting married & buying a house
There are only four spots every player must hit (the red ones with a Stop sign). They are:
- Career Choice
- Get Married
- Buy a House
- Sell 1st House, Buy a 2nd
Some are required spots, like Career Choice and Get Married, but they all play into invisible scripts. We should all make a single career choice and then potentially change it in a mid-life crisis (the game has a mid-life crisis space!!!!). We should all get married. We should all buy a house and then trade up to a more expensive house.
The Game of Life isn't cruel, it's merely mirroring the invisible scripts of our society. If you are in your mid-30s and unmarried, society views it a certain way. If you are in your mid-30s and without kids, society views it a certain way. Ask anyone in those position and they get pressure from their parents.
Is it right? No. Everyone should be free to live their own lives however they want because it's their life!
But society says you need to get a job, get married, buy a house, and then trade up that house. If you don't, you're weird. Or there's something wrong with you… says society.
I say forget that – live your life.
Retirement is at the end
Most of life sounds like fun. Go to work for 40+ hour weeks, have a family, buy all sorts of stuff, go on all sorts of vacations, trade up your house, blah blah whatever. Those are all ideas we believe because society says so.
Do you really need to own a house? No, but it makes sense depending on your situation.
Do you really need to get married? No, but it makes sense depending on your situation.
Here's one invisible script that I think needs to get busted up big time – you work for 40+ years and then retire. In the Game of Life, you live your life until you reach retirement. That's the end.
Many people defer their lives until retirement. That's why you have so many mid-life crises – people are living an unhappy or unfulfilled life and have a crisis where they over correct.
I want our kids to find fulfillment and happiness in their work but I also want them to live a balanced life. I don't want them to defer their happiness because of work. I don't want them to have mid-life crises. And I don't want them to think things have to be done a certain way and check boxes need to be marked.
The first step is to identify these invisible scripts and limiting beliefs in life and ensure we don't pass them on.