The Game Of Life


Peter McGraw is not afraid to invite his friends into the studio. This week’s episode features two new voices to the podcast: Sarah Stinson and Lawrence Williams. They play a famous game – The Game of Life – and do some editorializing about how this ubiquitous game socializes youngsters to pursue the American Dream. After the game is done, they reflect on the experience, especially how limiting the game is with regard to lifestyles (can’t go through life single, for example) and to the judgment of success where the goal is to retire financially wealthy.

Listen to Episode #131 here


The Game Of Life

Welcome back. I’m not afraid to invite my friends into the Solo Studio. This episode features two new voices. My first guest is Sarah Stinson. She grew up in Billings, Montana and attended The New School in New York, where she received a degree in Film and Media Studies. Sarah is a marketing professional, amateur comedian, and semi-professional smartass. She is creating the cartoon called Eat at Ballers. You can learn more about her project at ImFakingAwesome.com.

My second guest is Lawrence Williams. Lawrence is a Behavioral Scientist and Associate Professor of Marketing at CU Boulder. His research examines how people use the marketplace to add meaning to their lives. His writing explores the way Black culture shapes the American marketplace. He offers seminars to organizations that want to compete in global multicultural contexts via a cultural interchange. The three of us play a famous game, the Game of Life, and do some editorializing about how this ubiquitous game socializes youngsters to pursue the American dream.

You will read an abridged version of our play. I tried to speed things up to keep your attention. We finished the episode by reflecting on the experience, but I would like to point out one of those observations. The game is focused on family and financial achievement. This is obvious if you’ve ever played, but the game overlooks many other paths to living a remarkable life, especially as a solo. For example, there’s no meaning to be pursued in the game besides a family.

However, what if your calling called on a different form of meaning? For example, you wanted to dedicate your life to science or politics. There are no options for non-monetary achievements like climbing Kilimanjaro or pursuing a golden medal, for example. There’s no option for a life of engagement either. It’s the artist’s life, for example, or foregoing material possessions for a simple life, making things. Instead, the goal is to retire at millionaire estates or countryside acres, both of which sound awful to me. I hope you enjoy the episode. Please keep an open mind. It’s an experiment. Let’s get started.

Welcome, Sarah and Lawrence.

Thank you, Peter.

This is a much different episode than I normally do. It’s an experiment. We’re going to play the Game of Life and have a conversation about it. There’s no video yet in the Solo Studio. We’re going to be good about describing the action. Sarah is a new friend. Lawrence is an old friend and collaborator. The two of you made friends at one of my game nights. I reached out to you about the idea of playing a game. I’ve never had faster responses to an invite to be on the show. Thank you for that.

It’s my pleasure.

What is your experience with the Game of Life? Do you have any memories of this particular board game?

I do. I had it as a child. The vague memories I have of it are trying to beat my brother and sister and get all the stuff. I always wanted all the stuff.

There’s a lot of stuff, especially money. There’s a lot of consumption in this game. It would be interesting to see if it has changed.

I did not have it as a child. I remember seeing it on television and wanting it, but I do have it as an adult. I play it with my kids. They are very much interested in the acquisition aspect of it.

You skipped the socialization of it, but you made sure your kids had it. We’re going to unbox and play the game here. It’s sitting here. I ordered it brand new. This is the newest edition. First, here’s a bit of history about the game. The Game of Life is more than 150 years old. It’s older than the three of us put together. It was invented by Milton Bradley. Here’s bad news for the readers. The early versions were much darker than the current optimistic version that we’re going to play or the one that you’re probably familiar with. I have to assume more than 75% of people reading this have played this game.

The board game is in the Board Game Hall of Fame. It’s a surprisingly recent edition. I would have thought it would make it into the ‘50s, but the Board Game Hall of Fame is probably a new Hall of Fame. It’s like, “We’ve got a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We can make a board game Hall of Fame.” The original name of the game was the Checkered Game of Life, which points to some of the darker elements to it. The goal wasn’t to be a millionaire, which is the goal. Is it going to be a millionaire?

It’s close.

It’s simply to live a good life. It was a different time and era. This is a different time in American history. However, as you try to live a good life, you risk suffering some dire outcomes. There was a lot more bad luck that happened. A few things that could happen to you in the Checkered Game of Life are suicide, you commit a crime and go to prison, gambling to ruin, temperance to poverty, and disgrace. There are a lot of prisons. You could go to jail also, which is not as bad as prison. Sarah made a face. She’s like, “What’s the difference?” If you’ve ever been to one, you would know the difference.

Was the first game for kids? Was it a family thing? Was it a teaching tool?

It was a family game. Milton Bradley was an educator, religious, and highly moral man. He wanted the game to be a quest for a virtuous life. The original game had no money in it. Simply the goal was to have a happy old age. It certainly had this moral and righteous element to it all. Only after he died in the early 1900s did the game start to switch to the perspective that we are familiar with. There’s a focus on material success. It’s undergoing many updates in the ensuing time. We’re going to play the most modern version. Here it sits unboxed.

I want the OG version. That seems a much better version.

It would be much more exciting and, in some ways, a little more fun. There was some intemperance and gambling. Who knows what you have to do to be disgraced? It was probably not very much 150 years ago.

It was just the roll of the dice.

I’m glad you brought up the role of the dice because Milton Bradley didn’t believe in the dice because he didn’t believe in gambling. He thought gambling was sinful. He didn’t want the associations with gambling and hence the Spin to Win, which is an iconic element of the game. The spinner came about. It was a solution to this problem, “How do we have a chance without a dice?”

He never saw a roulette.

I don’t know when that was invented. That’s a good point. It wasn’t a big deal in Colonial America.

It was post-Antebellum or post-war. It was 150 years after the Civil War.

This is why Lawrence is here. He can do the math. He knows about American history and European history. Let’s jump in. This socialization or domestication starts early. This game is for ages eight and up. Eight is third grade. Third graders are playing this game. That’s being coupled with a lot of other things that are socializing the eight-year-olds, notably Disney and pretty much everything else on TV.

Hit them on every channel.

It’s everywhere. Who wants to open this up and get this going?

Go for it, Lawrence.

I’ll give it a shot.

The cover says the Game of Life. It’s super colorful. There’s Spin to Win. It includes 31 careers. There’s a bunch of imagery. There’s a car. There’s a baby stroller with pegs. There are wedding bands that are interlocking. There are these signs with money and skiing. There’s an avatar holding a briefcase. Luckily for us, it says, “With instant setup and easy play.” The board is open. There are four cars available. Is it up to four players? What color car are you going to choose, Lawrence?

I’m going to go for the pink one. It makes me think of the rapper Cam’ron.

Sarah, what are you going to do?

I’m going to go for the green one.

I’ll do yellow. We’ve got some blue and pink little pegs, which represent people. Sarah is putting them into the little tray that’s there. We have a bunch of cards. For those who haven’t seen the board, it’s a set of paths with a starting and ending point. What does the starting point say?

At the starting point, you can opt for the career path or the college path.

Right out of the gate, you’re making a choice from jump street of whether you’re going to go to college or you’re going to start your career right away. There are a few rules there. Do you want to hit a few highlights?

The one that already caught my eye was, “Out of money? Get a bank loan.” There’s debt as early as possible, “Give each player one car, a matching spin token, one pink or blue peg, and $200,000.”

My experience with the game is rather pallid. I do remember playing. It’s $200,000, not $2 million. Sarah gave me $2 million. I shouldn’t have said anything. Lawrence should be the banker.

I would like to point out how optimistic this game is that people are starting life with a $200,000 endowment.

I would like to say pessimistic it is that you have one of two paths you can take. It’s a career or college. There’s nothing else.

First of all, it’s interesting that the beginning of the game is a career decision, more or less. It’s not about, “Am I going to be, what am I going to be for my hobbies and my play?” Please go on.

“Choose a banker. Each player chooses a path. Choose college. You will be more likely to get a better-paying job. If you choose this path, pay the bank $100,000 in tuition fees immediately. Choose career. You will get paid sooner. Take the top two career cards from the deck, choose your favorite, and place it face up in front of you. That’s your job. Return the other card to the bottom of the deck.”

I have a feeling you two are going to go to college. I’m going to go for the career to give a different perspective.

I’m going for a career as well because I did college. I want to see what my life would have been like.

I’m going to do the college path because I respect myself.

He wants to make more money.

Lawrence’s theme is to value himself appropriately. He’s even doing it in this imaginary game. We put a person in the car. It’s one of these pegs that represents us. What else have we got going on here? We’re all set up.

Who goes first? Spin the spinner. Whichever person gets the highest is who goes first, “If you pass a payday space, collect the salary on your career college or career card from the bank. When you come to a stop, stop your token. Even if you have moves left, each stop space is different. See stop spaces on the back of this guide.” There are lots of stuff.

There are lots of stops on the path to a good life. Since I have decided to go straight into my career, I have drawn two cards. The decision is going to be quite easy for me. I can either be an ice cream flavor maker and make $60,000 a year or I could be a stunt driver and make $50,000 a year. I’m going with the stunt driver, and just because the goal is to get rich doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have a rich life. Also, it won’t matter that much how much money I have because I may die in my chosen profession.

I can either be a car mechanic and make $50,000 a year or I can be a farmer and make $70,000.

Those are subsidies.

I’m going to be a farmer.

Did you turn your $100,000 in?

I did. I invested in my education.

You’re better than us.

I am facing the choice of how I can be a doctor and earn $130,000 or I can be a librarian and make $80,000. I’m going to have to go doctor on this one. I feel very sad about it.

Do librarians make $80,000?

I can’t imagine.

A university one could.

No offense. If you’re a librarian reading, let us know if we’re in the ballpark.

I imagine that librarians are underpaid as a profession.

Given what an incredible service they bring to the world, agreed. It’s them and the stunt drivers.

Don’t get me started on the farmers.

We have to spend to see who goes first. I’m going to do the first spin since the show’s budget paid for this game. It’s eight. You should not even bother spending. Sarah gets a 1 and Lawrence gets a 4. We wasted those spins. I promise I won’t be competitive.

I don’t believe that. I’ve been to one of your game nights before.

I typically don’t care about winning.

“Can we get started because I would like to win soon?” Spin it.

I’m spinning to go first. It’s five. Where does that take me to? It’s payday. I got $50,000.

When you land on a payday, collect the salary on your career or college career card of the thing.

Winner, winner chicken dinner. Who’s next? You got five. You’re up next, Lawrence.

It’s nine.

What’s interesting is if you do the college thing, it takes longer to get to a payday. I don’t know if you notice that.

This is the cost of education.

He’s pointing to all these blank spots.

They’re roundabouts.

That’s an action space. When you land here, take the top action card from the deck, read it aloud, and do what it says. Keep the card until the end of the game. It’s worth the money.

It’s a bonus payday, “Choose another player to be your boss and tell them a joke.”

I don’t remember this from the game at all.

This is so new.

“If they laugh, collect a bonus payday from the bank.” How much?

You get $130,000.

You haven’t even graduated yet. I don’t know that you should get that.

That’s fair. Also, I feel like Peter should have received this one. I imagine that you have a firmer joke.

I do have a good joke. Do you want to flip it around? I’ll tell you my joke after you. Who’s going to be your boss?

It’s Sarah.

That’s a good choice. She’s already about to laugh. Lawrence is thinking hard.

Sarah, why was 6 afraid of 7?

I feel like this has something to do with eight. I don’t know why.

It’s because 7 ate 9.

I’m sorry. I can’t laugh. I’m savage.

There’s no money for me.

Someone is playing to win.

I’m the boss.

When I was doing all the humor stuff, I would get asked a lot, “What’s your favorite joke?” It’s an awful question to be asked, but I had one that was relevant to the humor research. Sarah, I want you to ask me, “What’s the secret to good comedy?” It’s timing. You’re up. Spin to Win. It’s nine. Is there anything that happens in those spaces?

That’s the action cards space.

You’re pretty much doing something every time you stop.

It’s a lawsuit.

Are you going to sue someone?

It’s even better, “Sue another player for damaging your fence. Collect $80,000 from that player.”

What type of fence?

Peter, pay up.

I would have chosen me too. Can you break that?

I can break it.

Do I spin?

It’s your turn.

It’s three. It’s the same spot. It’s another action card. I’m shipwrecked on a desert island. Everyone spins to find out how long they’re stranded. That is happening to people, not to me.

Don’t you have to spin too?

It says everyone spins. You spin. If it’s 1 to 5, you collect $20,000 from the bank. If you get 6 to 10, you get $50,000 from the bank. It says, “Keep this card and get $100,000 at the end of the game.” It’s a little bit of a weird card.

You get more money the longer you’re deserted on an island.

It’s hobby insurance or something like that. Lawrence, you spin and get the money from the bank. You get $20,000. He spun two.

It’s four. The spinner is rigged.

Sarah did one of those cheat spins and got $20,000.

Does it have to go around once like a wheel of fortune or what?

That looks like a one.

Tell us how you got off the island.

Lawrence, you’re up.

I have four, but I have to stop apparently to mark my graduation.

I do like the way they have built it. There’s some reality here.

Here’s what a graduation stop does, “Take the top two college career cards from the deck, choose your favorite, and place it face up in front of you. That’s your job. Return the other card to the deck. Spin again and move.”

I should’ve picked my job before I started college, not after, or I should pick it after, not before.

You’re still a doctor then because that’s what would have happened.

I’m not so sure. He changed his career.

Is it a thing? You start being a doctor.

This is the typical changing major.

That makes me so happy.

That would be incredible if they built that in.

There’s also a night school one. Let’s hope you don’t have to go to night school.

You might be a dummy in this game.

You’re going to be a doctor.

If people knew Lawrence’s actual education, they would know how funny that joke is.

I am very happy to take one of these other careers. I could be an airline pilot or an art dealer.

What are the salaries?

Both are $100,000. I will choose to be an art dealer.

I would choose the pilot in a second.

I don’t have that death wish that you seem to have.

I would go for the art dealer.

It says something about me. I was in Berlin. We went through this art gallery opening and met this amazing gallery owner named Judy. He was a lovely German guy. When the wall came down, he came over from East Berlin. It’s not who gets to the end but who gets to the end with the most money. That’s what we’re trying to do. Is that correct?

It seems that way.

I thought that was the baby spaces, but it’s the vacation spaces, “When you land here, you get to take a vacation. Take the top vacation card from the deck, read it aloud, and do what it says.”

This is unrealistic because Americans don’t take vacations.

This vacation is sponsored by TripAdvisor.

Shut the front door.

My worst nightmare is a waterpark in Orlando. Don’t worry. There’s a review, “We had a fun afternoon racing down waterslides and floating along the lazy river.” Describe your perfect day at the waterpark. Collect $30,000 from the bank.

You get paid to go on this vacation.

That’s the only way I would go.

I would rather work than go to a waterpark. I’ve got your $30,000. Tell us the story.

Describe a perfect day at a waterpark. That would be at the bar at the waterpark getting hammered and making friends with the bartender.

I spun a six. You skipped the, “Stop. Get married.” Sarah, you cheated. You have to get married.

That one’s all you, “Stop. Get married. It’s your wedding day. Pop a peg in your car. That’s your new husband or wife. Spin for cash gifts from everyone. Red, collect $50,000. Black, collect $100,000. Spin again and move.” You get another turn because you got married.

This is exactly why I hate this game. It’s because I have to do this.

I love that you’re the first one that got married on the show.

You only didn’t get married because you happened to jump across the stop sign and go straight to your vacation.

I always blow stop signs.

We should let you continue as is. This isn’t worth going back to. I had a red. What do I get from each of you?

You get $50,000 from each of us.

This is something that I do know. If you don’t have $50,000, you have to get a loan to still pay. There’s no getting out of gifting me this money. You have to go into debt in this game to reward me.

What if you refuse to go into debt? What happens exactly?

According to Milton Bradley, why don’t you go to jail?

That’s a disgrace.

Your car explodes.

That’s only if you land on that. Is there a thing there?

It looks like a birdhouse.

There’s a house card.

House spaces, “When you land here, you may choose to buy a house, sell a house, or do nothing. To buy a house, take the top two house cards from the deck, choose your favorite, and pay the bank the purchase price. Return the other card to the deck. To sell a house, spin the spinner and then look at the center of the spinner to see if your spin is red or black. Collect the sale price for that color as listed on the house card from the bank. Return the card to the deck.”

I can’t sell a house because I don’t own a house.

You can sell a house.

That’s a lot of free rides.

I would like to point out that I still barely graduated from college. There’s a lot happening over here.

That’s because you switched majors. That will set you back quite a load.

I am not buying a house. Anybody who reads this knows that I think that homeownership is overprescribed. Can I not do anything? Do I have to buy a house?

You can do nothing.

I’m a stunt driver. I’m probably going to live in a mobile home or something like that.

You can live in your stunt car.

Lawrence is now spinning.

It’s five.

You’re almost at your payday. Is that an action card?

That is an action card. It is a treasure hunt, “Everyone spins for buried treasure. 1 to 5, collect $50,000 from the bank. 6 to 10, collect $100,000 from the bank.”

That’s $100,000 for Peter. It’s interesting that this bank pays out money. Lawrence gets $100,000. Sarah, you are up.

I’ll try not to cheat this time.

You had another spin there. There’s a little space that has a spinner on it. She’s spinning again. It’s one.

It’s an action card. This does describe me, “You’re voted as the nicest person ever. Give everyone a compliment and spin.”

We will see how easy this comes to you. Sarah is looking at me. She’s looking at Lawrence.

Lawrence, I love your banana shirt and your toast socks.

Thank you. I’ve heard that before.

He has a food-themed outfit on here. I couldn’t pull that shirt off.

Peter, your beard looks great. It’s groomed to the nines. It’s a great beard.

Thank you so much. This beard has been life-changing for me.

I get $100,000 for Lawrence’s compliment and $50,000 for yours.

That seems about right. Check my math on it. I’m doing this with my off hand. It’s seven. I have to stop here, though. It doesn’t matter. It says, “Stop. Night school.” What does that mean?

You got in a bad stunt accident. You can no longer drive. You have to go back to night school, “If you want to change your career, pay the bank $100,000 to go to night school. Take the top college career card. If you want to keep it, place it face up in front of you and return your other career card to the deck. Otherwise, keep your current career card. Spin again and move. You love your current job. Keep your current career card, spin again, and continue on the life path.”

I’m going to go to night school. Here’s why. I get bored easily. I want to do all the things. I pick one card. This is going to be it.

Pay the bank.

How much?


I am now regrettably a journalist.

You don’t have to keep it. If you want to keep it, place it face up in front of you and return it. Otherwise, keep your current career card.

I’m going to keep my current career card. I don’t want to be a journalist.

You wouldn’t switch from stunt car driver to journalist.

It doubles my salary. This can’t be correct nowadays, unfortunately.

I’m surprised that maybe Indeed or someone didn’t sponsor the salary.

That’s 2023’s edition.

I’m going to do this because any time someone spends a number eight, they have to pay me $20,000. I’m selling out here. My $100,000 is in. Who’s spending now? Lawrence, are you spending?

I am feeling quite broke over here.

This is a boring section of the game.

It’s the post-marriage decisions.

We’re moving along.

Whatever you spin, you double the spot. We can speed this up real fast.

I like that idea.

Who’s up now?

You are. Did I get $50,000 for dancing? Thank you.

You also get money for your payday. It’s eighteen. I passed two paydays and now I’m at, “Stop. Family plan.” This is going to make me unhappy.

Family stop, “Choose your path.”

Is there a vasectomy path?

There is. It’s that Black spot.

It has a sad face on it.

There’s the hospital. Family path, “Spin again and head this way to have kids, or you have other plans. Spin again and continue on the life path.”

If I go left, there are no kids, a payday, and something else there. I don’t know what that is.

It’s a vacation.

This is a highly accurate part of the game. If I go left, I have a chance at a vacation and a payday. I missed this other stop. Along the way, there are a whole bunch of babies. What are some of these other things on here?

You have twins, a house, and a vacation, but not until you have another twin.

One thing that is true here is if you end up having babies, other people have to pay you.

Baby stop, “Spin the spinner to see how many babies you’ve had. Pop the pegs into your car, spin again, and move. No one pays you for the babies.”

It’s only when you get married.

It covers everything.

I’m skipping all the baby stuff. I’ll let Lawrence do the baby thing. It’s six. I have a payday and a lot of extra room in my car as a result. Lawrence gets a 2, which is a 4. You’re getting married.

Lawrence, congratulations.

Congratulations, Lawrence.

I’m going to be a little bit progressive and do a same-sex marriage. Give me a blue guy. No pink pegs for me.

He has to ride in the back.

It’s easier to put in the back with one hand. That’s the reason why. You can imagine a much more progressive game where you could have two partners. It could be a polyamorous marriage.

That’s another stop down the line after night school.

That’s another 50 years away, probably.

There has to be a dark version of the Game of Life out there somewhere. Someone had to do a spin on it.

Like it was hacked? I wouldn’t be surprised. That person has to be bored with life.

The Cards Against Humanity people should do that.

We have to pay you.

You have to spin to see what we pay you.

I landed on black.

You get $100,000 from each of us.

I want to point out the episode on Singles as Exhausted Gift Givers for people who haven’t read this. In this game, everybody gets married. We’re passing around. I paid you. You paid me. Sarah pays me. I pay Sarah. In a world where someone doesn’t get married, I would give Lawrence $100,000 and I don’t have anything coming back, which is the experience of a lifelong single in the real world.

Did you steal my car? I’m green. I was pretty certain I was the only single one on this Game of Life.

I’m not paying close attention.

Did you not get married?

Why not?

I was here. You took my piece and started moving it.

Weren’t you supposed to have gotten married back here?

We bypassed that. You covered that.

We’re going to let that one slide.

It makes the game more interesting.

You’re going to end up being a single mom here soon.

Fingers crossed.

You’re doubling it. People are like, “Can you triple it?”

You called it.

What are you going to do?

What’s my path?

You get to choose.

You go fully pure solo with no partner and no kids or you can go be a solo parent.

This might be the only way I’m going to have children. I’m going to get some kids.

When I was a child playing this game, this was a major part. This was exciting because you got to add these pegs, get all this money, and so on. What happened there?

I have a beautiful baby boy.

What are you going to name him?

It’s little Jerome.

That will quickly become Jerry.

Never. No son of mine will be called Jerry.

Only when you’re angry will he be Jerome. What do we have to pay you?

Nothing. I just have to pay for the rest of my life for this child.

Are there going to be additional benefits of having the child besides how meaningful it will be?


We will see. Sarah is a good mom. She put Jerry in the backseat to be very safe. He did a 9, but he’s going to go to 18. He has to stop at night school anyways. Are you going to keep your career?

I’ve already changed it.

Maybe you’re not that competent.

Can you imagine? I failed as a doctor. I became an art dealer.

You may not have what it takes. Your rich parents allow you to do this stuff, perhaps.

I’ve got a payday in there. I will use my payday to see what my options are.

You don’t have to pay to see it. I’m going to put some money back in.

I can become a photographer later in life. I’m going to say yes to that.

What does the photographer pay?

It’s also $100,000. It’s a lateral move.

In what world? It’s the Game of Life.

This is pre-Instagram.

I spin again.

It’s fourteen. It’s 7 times 2. You have to spin again. We’re paying him. He passed some paydays. Someone doesn’t need a loan anymore. That’s six. That goes twelve. Are you going to have kids? For people who are wondering where we are in the game, we’re a little more than halfway.

It looks like the retirement areas are coming up. I am going to have kids. It’s only right given the structure of my family.

You spin and then you will see how many you get.

We’re not doubling this one.

There’s one baby. I’ll take a baby girl.

What are you going to name her?

I will name her Justice.

I like that. If she ends up on the pole, it will be Juicy or something.

It will be Justice is Served. Come on.

Do you get to spin again or not?

I am done for now.

There’s a chance that you will have another baby, though.

There is a chance that I will even have twins.

You have to stop. What is that stop?

Spin for a baby.

Are you after me?

I’m after Lawrence.

What is that stop that you were at?

“Stop. Spin for babies.” You can’t get out without it.

They’re pushing these babies on you.

I’m going to have a girl this time.

What’s the name?

This will be Cynthia. It’s Cindy and Jerry.

The family is very classy with Cynthia and Jerome.

You take it to Cindy and Jerry.

We’re good. I’m spinning three. We come to six. There’s a baby. I dodged a bullet. Even if you take the non-baby, it’s not a vasectomy option because you can get an extra baby.

There’s another one right in front of you too. Be careful.

It’s not that big a deal because you’re coupled up. The goal is to have a family.

You chose not to have kids and all of a sudden, you have two kids.

What I’m saying is the game from the game standpoint. They want those cars filled.

It’s with a bunch of little Jeromes and Cindys.

I get an action card. Here we go. It says, “Pass your driving test. Tell everyone what type of car you got. Pay the bank $50,000.” I have a 2010 Audi A4. I’ll be honest. I’m not a big car guy, but I love that car. The reason I love it is it’s a six-speed manual. It’s a very fun car to drive. It’s small, but I somehow fit in it. I will pay the bank. I have a feeling you’re going to be on vacation too. Sarah is on vacation. I like how we got so far into life before you finally break down, “I need a break.”

Savannah safari, “We were close enough to the drafts to count their spots.” There were five dots, “Where would you go on a safari? Collect $50,000 from the bank.”

Have you been on a safari?

I haven’t. I’ve always wanted to go on a safari.

If I can do a little public service announcement, it’s extraordinary.

Where did you go?

I lucked into a safari, which sounds like a crazy thing. I was working on Semester at Sea. We had to change course because there was a terrorist attack in the Middle East. We ended up in Kenya. I did the Masai Mara safari, which was mind-blowingly incredible. It’s hard to describe how enjoyable the experience is. That would be good. Going to Serengeti and seeing the great migration would be even superior. There’s also Kruger National Park if you want to go to South Africa and do the full wineries history and craziness of South Africa.

They all sound tempting. I’ll go with choice number one, Kenya. I collected my $50,000.

She collected that money fast. Also, one of the nice things about a safari is there are groups. As a solo, it’s not a bad trip because the type of people who do that are often open-minded and cool. They’re having a fabulous time. The guides are excellent. You can get alone time to decompress. For the most part, you’re out on a truck most of the day. It’s not a bad solo trip if you can get connected to the right group. I’m spinning. Nine comes to eighteen. I have to hit a stop first. What does that say?

We’re safe. Risky roads, “Spin again and had this way to win or lose big money.” Safe routes, “Spin and head this way to take the safe route.” There are no big risks for you.

It’s a choose-your-own-adventure here. The risky route is a little shorter and has good and bad things in there, including a payday. The other one is a little bit longer route. I’m a former stunt driver and now a journalist. I’m probably in some war-torn land reporting on some rebellion. For this one, we’re not going to double it because that would be unfair. That would give me a chance to avoid the Risk and Ruin. I get paid. I missed some of the Risk and Ruin stuff there. I’m sorry to folks who are hoping to see me go down. Does the first person to the end wind? Do you play it to the very end?

The first person to the end wins. The first person collects $400,000 if you make it to retirement. The second person to retire has $300,000, the third has $200,000, and the fourth has $100,000. You start selling all your stuff and collecting your money.

My feeling is once one of us, i.e. me, gets to the end, we should probably wrap this.

You’re not competitive.

That’s a two. You spin again. You’re going to stop and do the Risk and Ruin. Which way are you going to go?

I will take the risky road.

We’re not doubling that spin. That looks bad. It does look bad.

“Pay the bank $100,000.”

That’s not so bad.

I can afford that.

That’s eight. I’m back at the risk and reward. I’m going to take the risky route.

There’s one. What is that?

It’s an action card.

“Happy New Year. Everyone makes resolutions and spins to see how many they keep.”

Do you get paid for how many you keep?

Yes. 1 to 3 is $50, 4 to 7 is $80,000, and 8 to 10 is $100,000.

We get paid by the bank. My resolution is nine.

You get $100,000.

That’s six for Sarah.

It’s $80,000.

It’s also six.

I can’t believe we’re doing the money thing here.

I’m loosely doing it.

I’m just skimming off the top. Guess who made it to retirement. I get $400,000.

We start selling off everything.

You have all these different cards. These are investments.

You get $100,000 for your action cards, $100,000 for your vacation cards, and $50,000 for each baby you have.

There’s where the babies pay off.

No one had alone, but you would have had to pay $60,000 for each loan you have.

You pay it back.

“Sell your houses.” No one has a house.

Did we miss you buying homes?

No one landed on it.

It’s a land-on thing. We should wrap. I know you two are dying to finish this game. Let’s debrief for a little bit on this thing. How did it feel to play this game besides absurd?

I was going towards absurd for sure. It felt quite detached from actual life decisions, at least for me. I was pleasantly surprised by the choose-if-you-want-to-have-kids path. It does seem that’s where this was going.

I was surprised by the oopsy kid thing that happened afterward.

I very much enjoyed that.

I was like, “What?”

It’s so binary. You have two choices. That’s it. That’s all you get. I feel a little sad and depressed after this. I’m a single mom with two kids, Cindy and Jerry. It’s quite detached from reality. I don’t remember it being like this. Maybe it felt happier as a kid. I wasn’t a disillusioned adult yet.

This felt a little pallid as someone who has made some big decisions in life. You’re like, “I’m going to be a stunt driver.” It doesn’t feel like there’s that much weightiness to it. I’m not advocating for the original checkered version of Game of Life, where you might end up in prison or jail or commit suicide, but there’s surprisingly little downside in this game.

The worst thing that we experienced was a canceled vacation but that hurt because that happened to me. I did not enjoy that.

This is teaching us no consequences for our actions in this Game of Life.

You get off to such a hot start in this game, which is completely different than anything I ever experienced in terms of any financial security, certainty around a career, and so on. What are some of the norms you think this game is reinforcing? Let’s step back. I already set this up. You can take this game in two ways. You can be like, “This is a game like many others where you’re spinning to win and trying to get as many dollars and things along the way.”

Monopoly is the other one that comes to mind, but even games like chutes and ladders have some element, “You’re up. You’re down.” You’re trying to get to the finish line. In this case, the finish line happens to be retirement with a huge payday. It’s something that 70% of Americans will never get to, which is quite upsetting. There’s another way to look at this game, which is training for life and teaching you what life is supposed to be like the original purpose that’s designed to guide you to say, “These are bad outcomes. These are good outcomes.” Your goal is to have a good life.

In this case, a good life is about a bank account, a family, more or less, and a job. Notably, the jobs only reward you on one dimension, which is pay. We chose the jobs because it was like, “I’m going to find this to be fulfilling.” The fulfillment of the job doesn’t get you any further in the game. It’s not like there’s psychic energy that you’re gaining or losing based upon what happens here. If you have an oopsy baby, you don’t lose psychic energy. There’s one score, which is the amount of money you have at the end, not fulfillment, enjoyment, good health, and happiness.

Even though there are a bunch of squiggly lines, it’s all linear. There’s nothing spinning your wheels or feeling stuck or feeling uncertain. You always have that passage of time. You’re moving forward.

There’s not much of a liminal space that’s happening here. You’re just trucking along. That’s interesting. There’s no depression and bankruptcy.

Even Monopoly has a jail spot.

There’s no divorce, poor health, and existential crisis anywhere on this board.

They should have thrown in one. A rogue board printer was like, “I’m going to put one tile here.”

“You’re on the existential crisis spot.” You’re like, “Life is meaningless. Go get some SSRIs.”

Do you pay the bank for them? Does the bank pay you for them?

You would have to pay big for those probably.

That’s sponsored by Pfizer.

There’s health-related stuff on there.

Speaking of sponsors, the cars are sponsored by TripAdvisor.

That’s interesting. I’m sure there are some others in there or something like that.

I wouldn’t want that job.

The business development part of this is from the Milton Bradley Company.

Do you want to be on Lifeguards?

Hasbro Gaming owns this game. It would be great if I get a cease and desist letter from Hasbro, “Stop smack talking our game.” You’ve alluded to this a little bit. I have two things. One is it’s rather linear. There are two choices along the way. For a lot of people, that is representative of life. It’s like, “What do I do next? Go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, or wait it out until retirement.”

It’s a Baby Boomer handbook.

I don’t feel that. I can’t say how much of it is the circles that I’m in, who I’m talking to, what I’m reading, or what I’m paying attention to. For large swaths of the population, that still has to be happening, but I feel like there’s a lot more wiggle room in terms of skipping, delaying, and foregoing some of these steps, though the average person does many of these things.

They make you stop like, “You have to get married.” The only reason I didn’t get married is that I blew past it. We didn’t make me go back and do it.

It was highly distracted gameplay.

You have to get married. That’s your first stop.

There was no, “I’m going to take a gap year and do something before I go to college. I’m to ski bum for a few years and then get a job.” There’s no digital nomad option here.

Where’s the sprinter van?

There’s not a van life option and so on. The reason I asked that is that I feel like this is very family-focused and family-centric, which in some ways demands a lot of these things. Families often demand a house and income.

I’m imagining this version with kids and a divorce option or saddled-with-college-debt option. That would be a hard game to play at your family table with your kids.

It’s a little too real.

My brain is going crazy with how dark you could go with these versions or not even dark, just real.

That’s the thing about life. There’s that one little path of risk-reward there. Frankly, I feel like that’s what most of life is like. I don’t want to say especially these days because it always had some of that element to it. All of these decisions have some element to them, “Am I choosing the right career?” At least you could change careers here. I was pleasantly surprised at that. It’s about the American dream. You can be anything you want to be. If you’re not happy being a farmer, you can go on. What did you become?

I stayed a farmer.

I switched careers multiple times.

You couldn’t cut it as a doc.

I failed organic chemistry.

Who doesn’t?

It’s like, “I like this art major or art minor.”

It’s the thing about going solo, which this game doesn’t let you do unless you break the rules. I do like that element of life, “Going solo has a riskier element to it.” That has to be acknowledged. You don’t have that person who you can lean on when times are tough. That said, you also don’t have that person who needs to lean on you when times are tough. On the one hand, you lose a hedge. On the other hand, you avoid marrying the wrong person who ends up being an alcoholic, abusive, or something like that in a sense.

There’s nothing about friendship and community. There’s a limited choose-your-own-adventure for what this looks like. For example, the notion that retirement is the end is already an interesting idea for someone who’s anticipating leaving his job and his career but is not anticipating ever retiring in a sense. What could happen? Death becomes the end of that point.

They say in the directions, “You win when you retire. You can go to a millionaire’s mansion or a countryside acres. Pick your car, kick back, and wait for everyone else to retire.”

Those are the options. They both sound terrible to me. It’s the idea that you’re waiting around for your friends to then be able to join you.

That sounds like the afterlife.

My fantasy about “retirement” is me and several friends getting apartments or condos in the same building.

It’s Golden Girls-style.

I don’t want to be in the same space, but it’s that kind of thing. Here’s my other idea. We share a dog. I want a 10% stake in a dog three days a month.

You have to make that happen.

This is a fantasy, but I don’t see why that won’t happen.

You want a 10% stake in a dog.

You have a 100% stake in adults. Is that too much?

It’s not.


That’s too much.

He has a dog too.

It’s the dog shares. It’s the sharing economy, I suppose.

I don’t want to get off track too much, but I love this idea that I get to create my later years in a way that can benefit me and my lifestyle but also, in some ways, provide a bit of a buffer against the natural concerns of growing old. The way I imagine it is, this would be a number of people. It wouldn’t be 1 or 2 other people who try to get a few people together and have the same je ne sais quoi and get along.

You don’t have to be best pals and have dinner together every night. It’s not very communal, but it has a communal element to it. There’s this agreement, which is, “If you get sick, call me. If you need to go to the hospital, call me and I’ll do the same.” You’re picking up a little bit of slack for each other. You have some companionship like, “Sarah, drop off Kevin. I’m going to have him tonight.”

This is growing on me. I already planned to Golden Girls it.

This is a version of the Golden Girls. If people haven’t read it, The Golden Girls episode is worth reading. It’s one of my favorites. It does spark this idea, “There’s another way to do this,” rather than driving off to your big mansion or country acres to enjoy more family living. For a lot of people, that’s great. From what I hear, being a grandparent is great.

It’s the contrast effect.

Do you think it is?

I would imagine so. Maybe time will tell for me.

You will have to let me know when Cynthia and Jerome have kids and what it’s like, Sarah.

I certainly will.

This was a worthwhile experiment. If you have comments about this as a reader, you can share them with me and the other members of the community. You can sign up for that at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. There were already several people who were very excited about playing this game. Thanks to both of you.

Thank you, Peter.



Important Links


About Sarah Stinson

SOLO 131 | The Game Of LifeSarah Stinson grew up in Billings, MT and attended The New School in New York, where she received a degree in film and media studies. Stinson went on to work for HDNet, Montana PBS, DiMarzio Pickups, was the co-founder of Total BS Media, a full-service content marketing and PR firm, and Divvi, an online divorce platform. She is currently the Director of Content Marketing at Kajabi, the leading platform for Knowledge Creators to monetize their content. She is an amateur comedian, semi-professional smartass and is currently working on producing a cartoon called “Eat at Ballers.” Stay up to date on the current hijinx at www.imfakingawesome.com.


About Lawrence Williams

SOLO 131 | The Game Of LifeLawrence Williams is an associate professor of Marketing at the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder.  He received his Ph.D. in Psychology at Yale University in 2008.  In his research, Dr. Williams examines the subtle influence of environmental cues on consumer behavior, the impact of psychological distance on consumers’ emotional judgments, and the mechanisms of self-regulation and self-control.  His research has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Psychological Science, and Science, amongst other outlets.