It’s no secret that I love board games. What I’ve learned over my gaming career is that board games are also a metaphor for life. The truth is, much of life is a game. Sometimes it’s a pleasant game, such as when you sort through a maze of options and come up with just the right solution and you feel like a genius. Sometimes the game is unpleasant, as is the case with office politics or trying to survive family drama. In any case, gaming has taught me that success in life largely hinges on finding the game(s) you’re willing and able to play.
When you join the board gaming hobby, one of the things you learn pretty quickly is how to find games that will bring you joy. There are thousands of games out there. When you’re new to the hobby, you want to try them all, to the detriment of your wallet. Gradually, though, you learn that there are genres of games that you love, hate, or feel meh about. There are games at which you excel, and at which you suck. It’s the nature of the beast. Over time, you target only those games that you know you’ll love, and at which you’ll excel. Playing inside that bubble of love and success is where the joy lies.
So it is with life.
(Note that games do have one advantage over life and that’s their optionality. You don’t have to play board games. You do have to get through life. And no matter how hard you try, there are going to be games you hate and cannot avoid. In those cases, all you can do it make the best of it and try to move on. I’m not advocating here that life can be all sunshine and roses all of the time. It can’t be.)
Generally, though, when you have a choice, pick the games you love. For example, I learned early on in my working career that I could not stand office politics. I mean, I would rather belly crawl through a room full of snakes than deal with the one-upmanship and foolishness that goes on in most modern offices.
I tried to put up with it, and I tried to learn to play and love the game. Many people seem to love it, after all, and do well at it. Perhaps there was hope for me. There was not. My only choice was to either spend a life in misery, or find another game to play.
That’s how I came to be a freelancer. That was a game I was willing to play. I was willing to take the risk of going out on my own for the tradeoff of being independent from an office and its associated silliness. It’s a trade that’s worked out well. Not to say that freelancing is all joy all the time. There are bad clients, and bad projects. The trick is to learn from them and to avoid playing those games in the future.
Writing novels is yet another game, one that I mostly enjoy. It’s not without it’s bad points, however. There are games in this job that I’m not willing to play. I find myself unwilling to play the Amazon game of “Chase the algorithm.” And I’m unwilling to play the social media game of “All spam, all the time.” That’s not how I want to spend my days on this planet.
There are games beyond jobs, as well. They call it the “Game of Love” for a reason. There will be games you won’t want to play in that arena, for sure. People who jerk you around for fun, and dates who mooch off of you are just two of the gamers to avoid. Some people seem to love those games, but if you’re looking for a real relationship, those are games you don’t want to play.
Families are known for silly games, too. Who loves whom the most? Who gives the best gifts every holiday? Why is your cousin talking about you behind your back? Why is your sister trying to be the cool aunt, even though you keep telling her not to take your kids to dangerous places? And on and on it goes.
Fortunately, there are ways around these games. The trick is learning how to play other games, games at which you excel and enjoy. There’s also the trick of knowing when to simply stop playing. With jobs and dates, keep looking for the games you enjoy playing. With family and office politics, sometimes the best option is to stop playing altogether. Walking away from the table is a powerful option that sends the message that you aren’t to be messed with.
And that, I think, is true of most of life. If you follow the herd and play the accepted, normative games, you might be successful and accepted by your peers. But if those games make you miserable, it’s going to be a long, awful road of life. Sometimes you have to look beyond the norm to find the games you love.
In board gaming, there are things called the “hotness” and the “cult of the new.” These are the games everyone raves about and love. You’re considered odd if you aren’t raving and in love, too. But not every game is for every person and raving about something just because everyone else is is silly. It’s also silly to waste money and time on a game you know you won’t like just because it’s “hot” and the cool people are playing it. Find your own way and your own games, even if they aren’t the ones everyone else is playing.
So it is with the games in life. It’s silly to waste time and money playing the games you hate and cannot win. Far better to find the ones you do enjoy, even if that means being looked at oddly by your peers, or having to carve a tougher path to a career. We only go through this world once, as far as I know, and it’s a pity if you’re wasting your time playing games that take you nowhere. Yeah, it’s going to take some work and trial and error to find the “good” games for you, but it’s worth it.
(Photo courtesy of skeeze)