Life is a game, redux

We want life to be a fun game.

Life is a game whose solution is an algorithm, personal to each of us.

To win at life, you move your pieces at the right time. First, you need to figure out what those game pieces are and what their value is. Then you make your moves, for love, fame, excitement, joy, and possibly a sandwich. Instead of “pieces,” let’s call them “assets.” Your assets are far more than precious metal, gems, corporate stocks, and collectibles. An asset is your talent, your compassion, your enthusiasm. It’s that pencil you’re using to dig in your ear.

Well, it was.

Those activities we explicitly identify as games are tools for exploring this central question: What do I have, and when should I use it? (The reason we strive to play and win, in life and in games, is evolution, and I’ll explore that in later posts.)

Games are important. But not all games are important to you. If you don’t think you like games, maybe you haven’t found the right ones yet.

I’m not that big on most sports games or the most popular American board games, as opposed to the popular German ones, which I think kick ass. Richard Garfield and Jonathan Tweet do excellent games. I like adventure and real-time strategy computer games and find some Tower Defense games amusing. But for me the best game ever is…

Dungeons & Dragons. Face-to-face, at-the-table, drinking-Cokes-and-eatin’-chips*, jewel-dice-and-minis Dungeons & Dragons.

I could say roleplaying games, but they’re all Dungeons & Dragons with different packaging, the D20 and Call of Cthulhu systems being especially good.

The type of Dungeons & Dragons game I like best is the classic faux-medievalish monsters-and-hero-archetypes, slogging-through-caverns-and-dungeons Dungeons & Dragons. I wrote a long novel celebrating that affection and set it in an alternate Oregon state at the time when Dungeons & Dragons had the most value. Steve O’Reilly was the right age, living in the right place, at the right time, with the correct and, yeah, mostly right brain, deploying his main asset to maximum effect, and what he had was Dungeons & Dragons (or Castles & Catacombs as I call it, against the strenuous objections of my good friend Rob Heinsoo, who probably does know best). Steve O’Reilly wins big by the end of the book, and you know he’s going to go on winning.

Your life-as-game is self-defined, but often we’re unconscious of the game we’re in and end up bumbling through someone else’s, and on someone else’s terms, and this is what I was interested in when I wrote Age of Monsters. (That and, of course, the monsters. And Tess.)

Are you disappointed I turned this into an ad? Go over to and read my book anyway, and write me a scathing review.

So what does Dungeons & Dragons have to teach you about life? If you’re not at least intrigued by the idea of it, then probably nothing. We’re done here. Go.

Still here? Actually, I already said what the game has to teach you. Dungeons & Dragons helps you explore that basic game question: what have I got and when should I use it? It’s playing at a stripped down, focused mini-life, and it’s doing it with other people, hopefully ones working with you in a spirit of excitement and fellowship, to survive, to prosper, to become badass. Sometimes life is too big and complicated and our personal relationships too fraught and hostile and we need to take it back to first principles: fighters, thieves, and sorcerers; gold and gems; monsters. If you can figure out what you have to offer within a D&D group, you may get some perspective on the larger game of your life, on what you have that’s scarce and when it will have the most value.

If not, at least D&D is fun.

*Or crisps.

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