I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
Another day, another thousand words. But what to write about? I’ve got a few ideas lurking in my patented idea slop-bucket, but how do I know which is the right one to scoop into today’s word-trough? I could flip a coin, roll some dice, maybe pin the ideas to a dartboard, fire back some tequila and see which concept bubble the dart of my focus should puncture today. I could assign each idea to a marble then dump a laundry bag of marbles down a hill and write about the one that rolls the furthest.
No, too much work. I can respect a good game of chance, but there’s a limit on how much cleanup I’m willing to undergo just to get a random result. There is a simple elegance to the coin toss, despite its potential complications: What if it hits the ceiling? What if it bounces off a table?
A game of chance should be simple. These are games we play in order to facilitate a balanced decision, or to figure out who has to go downstairs and deal with the pizza guy. They are games designed to speed up life, to allow us to scuttle past the weighing of pros and cons so that we can sink our teeth into the meat of the rest of our day. So why write about them? Well, it came up tails this morning, so here we go. As long as we’ve had coins, we’ve flipped them so we could avoid making decisions. But is this really the best method for turning our responsibility over to fate? Not according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. Learning how to manipulate a toss to land a certain way is not that hard, provided you’re using the standard flip ‘n catch method. They taught a group of people the technique, then watched them compete to see who could land the most heads in 300 flips. Everyone scored over 50%, and the winner pulled off a 68% success rate. Read more…