We have a hand-held video game box that plugs into the TV. It has arcade games from the 1980s hard-wired into it. It has Dig Dug, Pole Position, several versions of Pac Man and a few shoot-em-up space games.
I never was any good at arcade video games back in the day. The only one I’m any good at on the hand-held version is Bosconian, one of the shoot-em space games. On a good day I can get to level 15, which scores in the 300,000s.
The backstory of the game, and many like it, is that you’re saving the universe from an evil space empire. That’s great. You get to be the hero. You against the universe. The point of the game implied by the introductory screens is to get to put your initials in one of the high score slots.
But couple weeks ago, it dawned on me that as you progress in the game, the opposition only gets stronger and stronger until eventually you lose. No matter how many points you score, no matter how many levels you clear, you always lose.
It’s a good business model for an arcade game. If you always lose, you always have to put another quarter in the machine. No matter how good you get you always lose your quarter.
In one way, the game reflects the way life is. No matter how well you play your life, there is always trouble and you eventually die.
Unlike Bosconian, in life you only get one quarter. But in exchange for only having one quarter you get to choose the terms for how you win or lose.
You might choose to live the story of “You against the increasingly evil world.” Or, you might live with the goal of having your initials, maybe even your name, engraved on a scoreboard. Maybe put your name on lots of buildings. Play it like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
You might choose a role playing game. Pretend to be anyone you want. Live in the past. Or in the future. Or as a spy embedded in a CIA cell half way around the world.
You might lock yourself away in a tower as if you were the prize.
Maybe winning is seeing how many people you can make happy. Or how much suffering you can alleviate. Or how much you can contribute for the next round of players to have a better game.
Who am I to say which of these is best? I have my preferences. But the only thing I know is you and I each get to choose what’s winning.
So, what’s your game?