The reputation of board games has been ruined by Monopoly, a game so vile and destructive that it is responsible for more ruined Christmases than the Grinch. In Monopoly, like many other Ameritrash games, there is one resource (money) that everyone fights over, and the one with the most money eliminates the competition and wins the game.
The opposite of Ameritrash is Eurogames, and they follow a different pattern. Eurogames generally have two sets of resources, money and victory points. Money is important early in the game to build up an efficient infrastructure that you later use to score victory points. At the end of the game, the money is worthless as the winner is the one with the most victory points.
I believe life is like a Eurogame, but that most people live as if it was Monopoly. We have a limited number of years (turns) during which we want to live as good of a life as possible, filled with love, happiness, health and sex (victory points). To get these victory points, we need some intermediary resources, like money. But in the end, a bulging bank account does you no good, and only the victory points lead to eudaemonia.
(Eudaemonia is covered in my Mission Statement article. In short, think of it as ‘what makes a good life’.)
What is enough money?
I struck up a conversation with a suit-clad banker in London. I told him about my nomadic life and he dreamily confessed that he dreamed of something similar, and as soon as he had saved up enough money, he would quit his dull job and do it too. “Great!” I said. “How much money do you need?” I got a puzzled look, and he said that he didn’t know. “Well, how will you know when you have enough?” I asked. Again, I got a puzzled look. Mentally, I saw him pinning his target to the horizon, circumnavigating the earth time and time again chasing after an ever-receding goal. This man deals with budgets as a profession, yet he had left the budget of his dreams undefined.
In most Eurogames, the trick for maximizing your victory points is to know when you have enough money to last the rest of the game, and then switch over to gathering victory points. Those, like the banker above, who decide to work hard, save up for an economically stable retirement and then start harvesting victory points live their lives like a Eurogame. It sure is a step up from Monopoly, but it is still misguided.
I think life is like a very special kind of Eurogame that is divided into several unique phases. There are different kinds of victory points for each phase that can primarily be collected in those phases. The kind of experiences, adventures and fun that you can have in your twenties are quite different from the ones you’ll have in your seventies. (Although Viagra is a game changer.)
The elusive Victory Point
So why are we focusing so much on money, something most people will agree doesn’t give us happiness on its own? Why do we stockpile it for that elusive retirement?
It is because money is quantifiable while the victory points are ephemeral. Philosophers have argued over what is a eudaemonic life for millennia, and we have only one lifetime to figure it out best we can. And as is common with large amorphous questions, it is ever so tempting to delay the solving of the riddle for later and focus on something easier, such as doubling your income. After all, whatever ‘it’ is that we want out of life, we most likely are going to need the money, right? So why not just focus on the easy task first (making money) and worry about what we are going to do with it later.
But delaying the inner searching needed to figure out our own passions can become a habit, just as saying “I’ll start the gym tomorrow” too many times turns ‘tomorrow’ into ‘never’.
South Park, as always, has the best analogies for life’s big questions. In episode seven, series two, there are underpants-stealing gnomes that have a three-phased business plan.
- Collect underpants
Of course, that is ludicrous, but is the following life plan much better?
- Make money
- Happiness / Eudaemonia
Developing our tastes, likes and preferences take time and effort. You can’t go to the library and look up what will make your life meaningful. Google Maps cannot chart a path to eudaemonia. A lifelong trial and error is the only way to find what ‘victory point’ exists for you.
I am not saying that we should not make money (it is useful) or that we should in detail plan our path to eudaemonia (it’d take too long). Rather, I am saying that we need to be mindful of the balance between these two tasks.
If we spend our university days doing nothing but studying, then perhaps you’d get a better job in the future, but you will have missed the imitable university life (who doesn’t want to hang upside down in a dorm room being pelted with eggs?). If you work so hard that you have room for nothing else, then don’t expect a rich social life. And if you never contemplate what you really want out of life, then don’t expect to know it when you retire.
As in the Eurogames, the player who best balances the need for resources with the gathering of victory points wins the game. Focus too much on collecting resources leaves you with no time to spend them on what matters while focusing only on victory points leaves you broke and unable to get them in the first place.