A Great Game

I have written often in this space – and particularly lately – about winning and losing. This is in part because my father was a devoted gamer, and games were how we spent much of our time together when I was young. We played these games to have fun, but part of the having fun was caring whether you won or lost, and this was not always so pleasant and did not always bring out the best in me. My mother did not play games, however, and when it was just she and my brother and sister and I we liked to tell each other stories. I loved stories because here a group of people could join one another through the shared portal of their separate imagination, and by the end of the story you had arrived someplace together you hopefully all wanted to be.

One day when I was twelve my father came home with a new game. It was called Dungeons & Dragons. This was different than any other game. Sure there were dice and rules and pieces you moved around, but in this game there was no winning and losing. In this game, which was really like a story you were all telling together, the only goal was to have fun. If you had fun, everybody won.

My two worlds had come together and I, along with a lot of other teenage boys in the late 70s and early 80s, became obsessed with the game. My obsession has since faded, albeit so slowly that I would still be playing enough as an adult to more or less get paid to do so, but my admiration for the game remains. Yes it’s geeky, yes you end up saying things like, “I think Silence should actually be a 3rd level spell,” but this is beside the point. This game celebrated play, which is the mutual pursuit of happiness, which is actually a celebration of life.

Everything in life we think we want – the publishing contract, the house, the girlfriend, the big promotion – all of it we want because we believe having it will make us happy. Even those things we don’t want to do, those tasks and jobs and obligations about which we complain the most, we do because we believe we will suffer, and therefore be less happy, if we don’t do them. What a great game indeed: a story told for the pleasure, where anyone can be whatever he or she wants, and where it doesn’t really matter when you die.

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