essay

Life Narratives

While the power was out at my place, the group of us decided that we would play some games to pass the time. Given that there were six of us, we searched for something we could all play at the same time and, upon looking through all our options, we settled on the board game Life. I had never played before. Several of the others had. We started with a lesson on the rules.

All movement is decided by a wheel with the numbers one through ten. Each player spins the wheel and the outcome determines how many spaces each player avatar moves on the board. Various place on the board, which has a looping path that routes the players from one end to the other and back, hold represent encounters. Some places cost the player money. Others give it. Some spaces reflect nothing of the mechanics, the flow of money, but were story moments.

We each had to pick a colored vehicle, a career and a salary. Each would, in turn, define how we moved, earned money and how much we received or payed out. I ended up with a yellow car, a job as tech. support and a salary of $60,000. Average on all counts. Wanting to ditch mediocre then, I opted to have my character be gay. Some of the other players weren’t happy about this.

I’ll spare you the political breakdown of all the players, but suffice it to say that most were Republicans, conservative and not at all happy that I had added a homosexual to the game. But, having checked the rules and seeing that my option was not strictly against the rules, forced into letting me keep my “life choice”.

Although it was not my intention, I sparked off a series of rationalizations for the random acts that followed. Every time that someone had to give money to the person with the artist profession, there was a justification that the who landed on the space was buying art for their house or funding a gallery. Most of the time, these small story bits weren’t nothing more than the sentence on the space. But occasionally the players went into more details.

One character having picked the career of a doctor at the beginning of the game, at to get another career due to a game mechanic. She had landed on a space that forced her to switch out her career for another one. She had, after progressing over half the spaces on the board, gained several children and bought one of the nicer houses in the game. Forced to change her job, she tried to think up a reason why her experiences as playing as a doctor would lead this woman to become something else… an entertainer.

“She spent time with Doctors Without Borders.” This woman said in explanation of this random chance. “All that suffering… She wanted to raise money for it. Now, she’e an entertainer. She saved up money from the doctoring. Her kids will be cared for.”

For a long time, this player and I had a bit of a meta-game. We kept trying to see how much money the other player had gotten. Each time a Pay Day would be crossed, the tallys would be done anew and a comparison would be made. How much do you have now? was a frequent question. Once she became an entertainer and, through another space had to trade her salary care with another player though, started to earn less, the game between us grew fiercer. She had started with the best salary in the game while was at the middle salary. She had gained kids, wealth and a nice home. I had one of the worst homes, no children and, to the dismay of nearly everyone, an alternative lifestyle.

I ended up winning, much to surprise of everyone. Although I started at a loss, I slowly inched my way to the top place. I saved my money in the game only when necessary. I bought Car and Home Insurance as soon as I could. I invested in stock by the second turn. I spent my money very quickly early on, within the first few turns. Then, I waited, watched and planned. I hit my own set backs, had to pay money on various spaces. I even went into debt at one point. But I kept going, me and my partner. While the others had wives or husbands, lots of kids and a bunch of goods, I had a few prized items.  I had invested early but saved later.

In the end, the gay couple won the game of Life. Several of those with kids ending up losing more money. Those with goods had to sell them off. The doctor turned entertainer ended up lower, economically, than she planned. Everyone who had played by the traditional roles, had followed the script of the nuclear family, ending up doing the worst overall. The closer they were to the past, the worst they did in the present. There is probably a lesson or moral there. Maybe. I was more interested in the fact that I’d won to care too much.