Sunday, August 28, 2011

Playing the game of Life...


On the long drive back from the beach this month, I played Life on the cellphone app my daughter handed to me.

"It's fun.  Try it."

It had been a good 20 years since I played the face-to-face board game when the kids were young. Back then the term "face-to-face" didn't even delineate a choice.  All games were played face-to-face, even the ubiquitous video games.  (My marker for the digital world is 1982, the year my son was born, and we bought an Apple. The first one. With the blinking cursor and the green text.)

The premise of the game is simple: whoever retires with the most money wins.

Though the spinner was fun, even responding to some finesse with touch, and the street level view of the moving pieces was engaging, I found myself more and more angered as I progressed through my "life."

Everything was measured in money.

Birth of a child: receive $5000 in gifts from friends.  ($5000?  Really?  No joy? No fulfillment?  Just $5000 bucks?  A lousy measure of what the birth of my children meant to my husband and I.  It was a hollow reward.)

College earned the player a lot more money right after graduation. The game choice I made - to go into entertainment - didn't pay well at all--but I picked it because it sounded like fun.

In the real game of life, my college years never really resulted in a big pile of money, but they were exciting and fulfilling.  Choosing liberal arts changed me, changed my view of the world, and opened my awareness to a thirst for knowledge that has never abated.  I'm not sure what dollar value I would place on that.

The game went on like that, with the milestones of a rich and varied life reduced to a dollar figure.  I could hardly stand it.  It seemed a little too real, a little too much like our current lives.

Numbers rule our lives here in America.  Rich people are somehow better than poor.  Those with high SAT scores are more valuable than those without.  Wall Street has to hit the numbers. School districts, teachers, students .. all are driven by the numbers.  But for every number, especially the ones my students 'earn', there is a whole story left untold.

Our focus on money and measurement has created a spiritual and cultural wasteland.  Playing "who makes the most, scores the highest" is an unsustainable vision.  It is simplistic, simple-minded and a poor substitute for the richness of human experience. In addition, there can really only be one winner at that game.  It feels as though the piling up of wins would topple over from the sheer pressure to get more, more, more.

But it is something a businessman understands completely. And the business pros are winning at shifting this game into education.

My invisible, virtual opponent won the game.  She retired before me and continued to play the numbers.  She had taken an option out on the number "9" and it paid off several times, earning her well over a million dollars as she basked in retirement while I continued to limp along with my two-year degree. (I went back to school.)

She was divorced (big payout) and ended the game with only one child--no grandchildren.

I imagine her as a bitter, old woman in a toney retirement home sipping martinis, playing backgammon, and yelling at the TV.

As for me, I lived a long, happy life in my log-cabin surrounded by a pile of messy, disorganized grandchildren.

Guess I lose.

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