FORT LEE, Va. – Parking my yellow convertible on the square, I read the words aloud, “‘Inherit shrunken head collection. Pay $10,000 for museum to accept it.’ Aw, man!”
“Quit yer whining!” my older brother snickered with sick satisfaction. No matter what game we played, he always appointed himself the banker, setting an immediate tone of superiority. 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. We played Monopoly, Sorry!, Risk, Payday, Stratego, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Battleship and other games expressly intended to reward the rich, ruthless, lucky and intellectually superior.
There were no consolation prizes – 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?
Once I’d had my own kids, they would often whine, “We’re BORED!” I’d remind them of the bikes, scooters and athletic equipment lying dormant in our garage, and they would sigh. I’d remind them of our four televisions with over 200 channels each, and they would sigh. I’d remind them of our stacks of neglected board games, and they would sigh.
One summer, I baited them with unhealthy snacks into playing the Game of Life, which they had received for Christmas that year. A few minutes later, I heard their banter coming from the dining room.
“‘Support Wildlife Fund.’ Ooh, I got $5,000.”
“‘Cycle to work.’ Ha! I got $10,000!”
“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 this was not the game of my youth.
“What’s this – ‘Countryside Acres?’ What happened to The Poor Farm? And are these minivans? You get money for recycling now? What’s going on?”
Confused, I called my mother, who like me is unable to get rid of anything. Sure enough, she found the Game of Life my brother and I used to play in the basement of our 1950s brick ranch. She carefully opened the brittle 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.”
“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 summer days spent trying to crush my opponent flooded my mind. Back then, the rules of Life were clear – get a good job, be responsible and make as much money as possible. Sure, every player had to deal with hard knocks in Life like tornadoes, jury duty, poison ivy and poor relatives. But if you got rich, there was no shame in rewarding yourself with yachts and trips to Monte Carlo. Simply put, wealth was necessary to win at the Game of Life.
But 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.”
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 award trophies for every player.
Gloomily, I said goodbye to my mother and hung up the phone. “What’s this world coming to?” I thought.
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 squealed, “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.