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Measuring success in The Game of Life

The Game of Life's signature spinner.
John Liu
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/8047705@N02
The Game of Life's signature spinner.

That’s life. Reuben Klamer has reached the end of his road.

The creator of the six-decade-old The Game of Life died recently at the age of 99.

Friends said Klamer was like an 8-year-old in a grown man’s body, pursuing a career that included his own version of the Hula-Hoop, a model toy phaser rifle for the original Star Trek series.

The news of Klamer’s death immediately whisked me back to my childhood, and the rainy afternoons locked in mortal combat with friendly rivals, madly spinning our way through work, marriage, children and propelled by the hope of ending the game richer than anyone else.

A quick check of the “vintage” rules confirmed that on the “Day of Reckoning,” there were only two final destinations — “Millionaire Acres” or the “Poor Farm” — and only one measure of success: The player with the most money wins.

In that way, The Game of Life was similar to many of my childhood pastimes. In Monopoly the idea was to bankrupt the competition; in Careers it was to amass cash, fame and romance before anyone else. And in Risk — a personal favorite because it just went on and on until exhaustion — the goal was even more chilling: world domination.

With childhood games like these, is it really any wonder that once baby boomers got their hands on more grown-up playthings, the predictable result would be endless war, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “American Idol”?

Over the years, The Game of Life has tried to soften its mercantile edges, with players now being rewarded for charity work such as collecting $200,000 for saving the whales.

Yet the wheel of fortune still spins. Players load up their tiny plastic cars with their peg-like families, choose professions, receive salary increases, and sue each other — with the prime directive ringing through the decades just as it did when I was a boy. The winner is still the player with the most money.

Today, this particular 8-year-old in a grown man’s body can just about see the end of his road. But the question remains: Is the real game of life determined so randomly, by the spinning of a wheel and the size of one's estate? Well, yes, and no, and not exactly. I guess that’s life.

Robert Chipkin lives and writes in Springfield, Massachusetts. His collection of columns, "Paws To Remember," was published this year.

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