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15 Games of Life (and the One Most Worth Playing)

The "Money Game," the "Fame Game," the "Power Game," 12 Others - and then the Big One.

Article by LiveReal Agents Thomas and Courtney

How should we spend our lives?

Well, that’s a Big Question.

Let’s make things a little easier: how do we spend our lives?

OK, that’s still a lot to wrap a head around, although that makes it a little easier.

But let’s focus in on this even more.

Let’s imagine that life is a game.

Calling it a “game” it doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.

As Robert de Ropp noted several decades ago when pursuing this same line of thought, some things we call “games” are matters of life and death. Love, war, business, relationships, sex, romance, etc: all of these, and more, can be seen as “games.” And they’re all, at times, deadly serious.

Life itself can be the same way.

We could say, for example, that our “game of life” started when we first popped out of Mom, and it will end when our time comes to start pushing clouds. And in between those two existential whistle-blows, the clock is ticking.

So, the Game is on. Right now.

So what “game” or games are we playing here, exactly?

To be clear: these aren’t just games in life. They’re games of life.

We spend our lives playing them.

In this way, they’re what we give our lives to. So really, we don’t just play games. They also play us, as strange as that might sound.

After all, we all have to do something with our lives. We only have so much time and energy, and we have to “play” something. We have no choice. Even if it’s couch-surfing our days away, covered in blankets of Doritos – that’s still playing.

The trick, it seems, lies in deciding what that “something” is that we give our lives to.

A major part of our task here, it seems, is figuring out which game to play. And which games are worth playing.

So, a big part of life seems to be deciding which games are worth playing.

In this sense, life is really more like a game-of-games.

There are games-within-games. And a big part of our task here involves deciding what game or games to play, within this bigger game.

So, how do we decide that?

Well, here’s one idea might help us get some traction on this.

Every game has a trophy.

If you succeed in a certain game, you get a certain kind of trophy. (We’ll discuss several various kinds of trophies below.) If you don’t succeed in the game, you don’t get one. (de Ropp mentioned this idea as well.)

Sometimes, the trophy is worth the effort it takes to win.

Other times, apparently, it’s not. There seem to be some cases when a person plays a game, invests a lot of time, energy, sweat and blood into winning a certain game. Then, once the game is finished and they’re standing there with trophy in hand, they think: “Is that it?”

“Is this what all the fuss was about?”

So choosing the right game to play seems pretty important. Especially if it’s a game is something we give our lives to.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick, overgeneralized, paint-with-a-really-broad-brush tour through several of the most popular games, and see what trophies they offer.

Here we go.

15 Games of Life

1. The Money Game

The trophy here is no mystery: it’s money. Wealth. Lots of it.

The basic idea is to get as much money as possible. “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Success in life is measured by the contents of your wallet or the size of your bank accounts.

In a way, playing this game can be a good thing. After all, having food, clothes, somewhere to sleep? All good things, it seems. No food or clothes, nowhere to sleep? Generally speaking, not what most folks are aiming for.

But on the other hand, there are plenty of winners of this game – folks with lots of money – who seem miserable.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

2. The Fame Game

The trophy here is clear: lots of folks know about you.

The reasons are secondary. Maybe they know about you because one day you singlehandedly saved a school bus full of orphans. Maybe they know about you because you had a few too many beers and fell into a giant tub of baked beans. They reasons why don’t matter: it’s just the trophy we’ve focused on here, and the trophy is fame.

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. Being known by others, and appreciated, validated, being seen as important, valuable, and even special – well, to most of us, that seems like a good thing. It definitely seems better than its opposite: being unknown, invisible, unappreciated, invalidated, or being seen as unimportant, not valuable, and not special. And to boot, fame can sometimes open the door to other games, like wealth, power, status, pleasure, and so on.

But on the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. We can all think of people who were famous and miserable. Some folks work for years or decades to become famous, and as soon as they achieve it, start complaining about it. Apparently, the whole business can easily become a kind of prison, and exhausting. It might lead someone to ask, “why did I think a bunch of strangers knowing stuff about me would be a good thing?” And also to boot, fame can sometimes close the door to other games, like wealth, power, status and so on – for example, when the guy who fell into the tub of baked beans got fired from his job and was known as “the bean guy” from then on. (People can be so mean sometimes.)

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

3. The Status Game

The trophy of this game is being liked, admired, and respected by other folks.

On the one hand, this game can seem to be a good thing. After all, everybody wants to be appreciated, and liked, admired, and respected. The fact that we spend all kinds of money trying to convey it points to the fact that most of us really think it’s a really good thing. And the opposite – being unappreciated, disliked, and looked down on – well, that doesn’t seem like much fun at all.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. We can probably think of the winners of this game –folks with lots of status – who seem miserable. And it’s like many other games, in that the more status-obsessed you are, the more miserable you seem to become.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

4. The Power Game

The trophy of this game is getting to be boss. This basically means being able to tell everybody else what to do, and not having to do what somebody else wants you to do.

Politicians love this game, and traditionally, the game is known as “politics," or in other circles as the "Game of Thrones." But of course, this isn’t limited to smooth talkers in Washington or London or Beijing. This game is played in every company, organization, group, family – and even, in a way, within every person.

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. After all, a certain amount of power is needed just to get through life. We need to overpower gravity just to walk. We need to overcome the forces of inertia just to get out of bed in the morning. We need to conquer a million tiny obstacles just to drive to work. And again, the opposite doesn’t seem like a good idea at all: being utterly powerless sets us up to be taken advantage of, used, abused, and discarded by a world that often doesn’t have our best interests in mind. Power, it seems, can definitely be a good thing.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. “Power corrupts,” as the saying goes, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There seem to be lots of stories of seemingly nice folks who get a taste of power, and soon after, suddenly transform into jerks. It’s not always a hard and fast rule, of course. There are a few examples in history of folks who have had power and weren’t corrupt. (Not many, maybe, but some.)

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

5. The Pleasure Game

The trophy of this game is no secret: it's a good feelin' that feels good.

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. We all like pleasures of some kind. Food, movies, sports, beer, reading, talking, dancing, naps, hanging out, beer, hiking, movies, television, beer, naps, sex – and much more, and not in that particular order.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. Too much sports, beer, relaxing, television, sleeping and so on can start interfering with life. Some pleasures can even interfere with other pleasures: too much beer can really get in the way of your dancing, for example. Pleasure can also be a kind of narcotic: it can sometimes cloud our thinking, confuse us, drain us, etc. And of course, as a whole landscape, some “pleasures” can take us into some pretty dark places: heroin is a pleasure for some, for example. Musicians don’t talk much about how the clichéd sex-drugs-rock and roll thing eventually led them to lives full of love, wisdom and happiness. More often, when they get more perspective on the matter, they regret it. So, pleasures – sure. But there is another side.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

6. The Addiction Game

The trophy of this game is permanent pleasure that never stops and has no downside. Many chase this trophy, and many who do eventually decide that it’s a unicorn hunt – a search for something that doesn’t exist.

On the one hand, certain aspects of this game can occasionally be a good thing. When someone becomes passionate about something – like the way Michelangelo fell in love with art, or Einstein fell in love with physics, or Shakespeare fell in love with drama – all of those could be seen, in some ways, as “addictions” of a positive kind. Becoming addicted to mountain climbing can be a good thing when it’s compared to being addicted to heroin. And on the more traditional front, cold beers, and sometimes stronger stuff – according to plenty of folks – can be a really good thing.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. This doesn’t need much explanation. Heroin, alcohol, and other stuff can be the fastest and most effective ways to destroy a life.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it clearly isn’t.

7. The Relationships Game

The trophy of this game is the experience of romantic love within an intimate relationship, whether it be marriage, a more brief romance, or “real love.”

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. It needs no explanation.

On the other hand, this game can sometimes be a bad thing. Plenty of relationships wind up in a state of utter misery. And misery isn’t even the worst thing that can happen: from multiple crippling, heart-mangling breakups to divorce, jealousy, and abuse all the way to literal murder, sometimes what starts as a fairy tale ends as a train wreck.

So, this game can clearly be worth playing, in many ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

8. The Art Game

The trophy of this game is great art. Film, writing, drama, music, the visual arts, and so on. Sometimes it’s a literal trophy (Oscar, Grammy, Tony, Webby, etc.)

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. A great work of art is just inherently, well, great.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. There are plenty of great artists who create great art who were miserable in their actual lives, or jerks to others, or combinations of both.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

9. The Science Game

The trophy of this game is some sort of scientific breakthrough. This kind of thing is sometimes recognized with a Nobel Prize, sometimes not.

On the one hand, this game can be a good thing. No elaboration needed.

But on the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. Science has given us both the cure for smallpox, and chemical weapons. It’s given us both Viagra and frontal lobotomies. It’s taken us to the moon, and it’s created us the atom bomb. Science is like a screwdriver: it can be used to build something, or stab someone. It all depends on how you use it. Science, in itself, is neutral.

And it’s the same with art: there can be great scientists who, on a personal level, are miserable jerks.) We won’t name names here.)

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

10. The Family Game

The trophy of this game is, well, real family.

On the one hand, this game can obviously be a good thing. Through all the ups and downs, trials and tears life sends us, family can serve as our home. It’s where people you love love you back, and have your back, no matter what.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. Plenty of families are theaters of dysfunction, chaos and abuse. Some kids can’t escape quickly enough.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

11. The Religion Game

This game offers several different kinds of trophies. Many, for example, approach this game as a means to other games. Which is to say, for some, this game is really about relationships, or family, or status, or security, and so on. It’s just played in a different arena. One example of this is the “I don’t really buy this stuff, but it’s good for the kids” approach.

But let’s put those aside for now and focus on the one trophy that those who take this game seriously focus on – the one it offers that none of the others do.

It has many names and is described in many ways: heaven, nirvana, moksha, salvation, Paradise, Tao, Oneness, enlightenment. There are other names for it, but those are some of the most popular ones.

On the one hand, this game can obviously be a good thing. Orphanages, hospitals, homeless shelters, scientists, monks who invented beer, etc. While a very few of the hardest-boiled atheists might disagree, even most of them will acknowledge that at least some people do some good under the banner of religion.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. It hardly takes any digging into the history of religion – recent history can demonstrate it all quite well – that plenty of terrible things happen under the guise of religion. Even if religion itself might in some cases be a good thing, it’s also just as clear that we can seriously screw it up.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

12. The Security Game

The trophy of this game is, well, the status quo: survival, security, avoiding danger, continuing to exist, living to see another day.

On the one hand, this game can obviously be a good thing. No elaboration needed.

On the other hand, this game can be a bad thing. After all, one of the few things we’re certain about in life, along with taxes, is that we’re eventually going to lose this game. And being overly concerned with security can have some paradoxical effects. If someone is consumed with avoiding danger at all costs, for example, it might make them afraid to leave the house, or a hypochondriac, or afraid to take a chance on something new. Which, ironically enough, leads someone to miss out on a lot of life, which is the very thing they’re clinging to. It can become, when taken too far, a life lived in fear.

So, this game can seem worth playing, in some ways. But in other ways, it doesn’t quite seem to be enough.

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