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Friday, April 13, 2012

A Monopoly on Luck

I was around when the arcade game, Space Invaders, revolutionized entertainment in 1978. For only twenty cents you could sit and destroy marauding aliens on a desk top sized screen as you waited for your hot chips to cook at the milk bar. Pacman (1980) and Frogger (1981)soon joined the party, and a generation of children became addicted to video gaming. Today's innumerable computer games have evolved to an unbelievable level of sophistication. 21st century children are glued to their TV screens engrossed for countless hours playing games on various platforms while providing fodder for the endless complaints of parents about their lazy and obese children.

Before we had games which rely on technology we played card and board games, and I am still a big fan of three of these traditional games: Chess, (invented some 1500 years ago), Monopoly (1933)and Scrabble (1948). In fact, I have very recently been thrashed over consecutive days in Monopoly, by my daughter.

The chief purpose of games is entertainment, but many games require a good deal of thought and that obviously has great benefits for brain training as well. An often exercised mind is usually a more athletic mind.

Life may be considered a game of sorts, and no matter how we regard it, we all have to play: beginning at our births and terminating, at least physically, at our deaths. Many parallels can be drawn between games and life. I imagine a whole book could be written on the subject but I want to concentrate on the issue of luck. Chess is a game of pure skill and concentration. The only time luck may get involved is when your opponent makes a mistake and either provides you with an opportunity, or a reprieve. Scrabble requires skill and a good vocabulary but there is a strong element of luck involved in the blind selection of letters and the fact that other players have access to the same opportunities on the board as you do.Monopoly is 98% fortune. Any game where you roll a dice, is a game where the outcome is entirely a question of chance. In Monopoly winners tell themselves they used good strategies and losers blame bad luck, but everyone knows the truth.

There are two ways of looking at chess. If like is like chess then we have no control at all over what happens to us. We are pawns, and God or Fate move us around. Alternatively, we are in complete control, manipulating the circumstances and people in our lives to our greatest advantage. If like is more like Scrabble then it would be best summed up by the philosophy, "I do the best with what life gives me". The letters you pick may not be what you want but you still have to try and make a word with them. Atheists must prefer Monopoly because according to them we are all products of chance:the beginning of life was a still unexplained cosmic accident and humans are bags of chemicals blindly bouncing around having accidents: accidental relationships, children, careers. This is an over simplification but you take my point.In Monopoly you make decisions and pretend you are in control but everything is merely a matter of chance.

What you believe about the game, determines how you play it. How much control do you have? How much do you want? Are you lucky or unlucky, or does luck play no part in it at all? Is life a game of Chess, Monopoly or Scrabble?

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