The Game of Unrealistic Expectations
Virginia is really into board games right now. She’s eight, so almost to the age where she can win without us letting her. Most board games are just luck, anyway, once you understand how to play.
We’ve been digging up some of the old classics out the closet in my parents’ basement. We’ve got everything down there, from Battleship and Sorry! to Candyland and Mancala to a bunch of different versions of that game where to try to roll a boll uphill by moving two poles, because my mom didn’t get rid of anything that could conceivably be used by a grandchild one day. We even have one of those magnetic football tables where the board vibrates to make the tiny players move as they really would if playing football during an earthquake.
Virginia’s current favorite is Monopoly. She gotten pretty good, to the point she can regularly beat her mom, using the proven strategy of rushing to put a hotel on Virginia Ave.
One game we don’t have, though, is The Game of Life. You remember that one. It had the big wheel you spun instead of throwing dice and the cars you could put little people in as you got married and had children. When you were seven, you probably made your wife ride in the back seat. Maybe you still do, I don’t know. But I remember loving that game. So we ordered it to play with Virginia. It might have been a Christmas present.
Picking up a classic game isn’t like picking up a classic novel. You can’t expect it to be exactly the same as it was thirty years ago—the latest version of Monopoly has a credit card machine in lieu of cash—but you figure its basically the same.
The new Life still had the big wheel, which was the main selling point as far as I’m concerned, and it still had the cars with the little figures, but now included pets! Welcome to life in the 21st Century. The cars looked mostly the same, but I can only assume they were hybrids. Also, you could now choose to go to college or straight into a career, which I don’t remember being an option before. When I was young, kids just got right to work without wasting spins on education spaces. But it’s only slightly longer than the career path, and it only costs $100k, so it’s honestly a steal.
What really struck me, though, is how the whole idea of the game had shifted. No one would argue that the original Game of Life was an accurate simulation of life itself. No board game could capture the joys of getting that first paycheck or the sleepless nights that come with adding a little blue or pink peg to your car. It doesn’t quite capture the stress of not having enough money to pay the bills, and it’s not as though if you land on the wrong space your wife will suddenly die of dysentery. It’s not The Oregon Trail.
But at least it tried. It had some ups and downs. Some of the cards you drew were good, some were bad. You gained money and you lost money and you had to pay for things, but you kept spinning the big wheel and tried to make it retirement before everyone else. If you had a lot of money, you got to live out your years in the swanky Estates. If you didn’t, well, you got what you could afford. Maybe there was some good lesson in there for kids. I didn’t care. It was fun.
By comparison, the new game is like living in a casino where all the slot machines are stuck on triple bars. The game showers you with money. Getting married? Spin to see how much cash you get as a wedding present. Having a kid? Take this $50k. Land on a random space? Congrats, you won $10k in a skateboard competition. Here’s a card where you go on vacation, receive $50k from the bank. The hell?
The game is all ups and no downs. Literally. There might be one card where you pay money in the entire game. Sometimes your house only appreciates a little instead of doubling. There are some lottery spaces where everyone chooses a number to see who gets $200k. If no one’s number comes up, keep spinning until someone wins! Imagine that in the local powerball.
At the end of the game, everyone goes to the same magical retirement home in the sky, where you receive cash for each of your children and pets and a $100k for each experience card you drew (the ones that give you cash for taking trips). Maybe that represents Social Security or something. It doesn’t really matter. Everyone is a billionaire, counting their money, and the biggest billionaire wins.
I’m sure this says something deeper about the state of our current culture. My kids don’t care. It’s fun. I just wish they would change the name. Maybe to something like The Game of Unrealistic Expectations.