The Game of Life: Influencing Childhood Career Aspirations?

The Game of Life: Influencing Childhood Career Aspirations?

Hey everyone!  I’m super excited to be involved in Tiltfactor’s NSF Bias project and will be reflecting on how current games have contributed to or influenced the topic we are addressing.

This week, I will be briefly discussing how Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life could potentially impact its players’ career and/or life goals.

The Game of Life is a table-top board game designed for children 9 or older that allows players to live through a compressed version of adulthood — from college to retirement.  Along the way, players get to do “adult things” like choose jobs, get married, have children, and buy a home.  I would like to specifically address how this game creates a skewed perspective of the potential benefits of going to college.

The game starts out by allowing the player to choose between going to college or directly starting a career.  While this is a critical decision people are forced to make in real life, in the game the results of this decision do not influence the game much beyond allowing players to be eligible to be either a doctor or accountant.  I am a firm believer in the notion that the mechanic is the message in game design.  Mechanically speaking, however, the only benefit of going to college is eligibility for two vague jobs that “require a degree.”

On the other hand, there are seven jobs that do not require a degree.

I believe that this distinction, though presumably meant to encourage children to go to college, actually creates a distorted understanding of what going to college can do for you.  In short, it provides children with the misconception that college automatically qualifies them for some vague “upper level” job (in this case, a doctor or accountant) while not going to college makes them fit for more “common” jobs.  In my experience, the point of college is not to simply “become” qualified for a high-ranking job, but rather to find something you are passionate about and learn how to contribute to that field to the best of your ability.

While I understand that it is not practical to capture this idea given the rest of the way the game works, I feel that this aspect in particular creates a distorted understanding of people’s reasons for pursuing higher education.  For example, being an artist does not require a college degree in this game. What happens to a player who might actually be passionate about the arts or sports?  Would they be discouraged from seeking higher education to explore their passion?

I bring this up because game designers need to be aware of the fact that players’ expectations from life could be influenced by the games they played in childhood.  While The Game of Life might have been designed with good intentions, it could potentially discourage players from pursuing their passions, considering applying to college, or both.  Ultimately, socially responsible game designers should be attentive and work to prevent or undo such potential effects.

7 Comments
  • Nathan
    Posted at 10:46h, 19 October

    Older versions of the game had somewhat different mechanics.

  • Sgt_Erika
    Posted at 11:01h, 19 October

    This is great. I want to list my beef with “The Game of Life”, right now!

    1) First, the end goal is whoever retires first? WAT? So the end of your life is when you’re out of the workforce? I feel that if Tiltfactor ever even tried to make a game about this, we’d at least start brainstorming the endgame as “acquire as many ultimate truths as possible” or “how much positive energy did you create in the world”. Of course Milton Bradley was more jaded about stuff, I guess.

    2) Any assumptions that the game designers made about life would be reflected here. Or even more abstractly, anything they thought the public wanted to see represented in the game. So WHO is teaching WHAT to the players? What are they trying to say? Hmm…

    3) Only two jobs require a degree? WAT? And even a TEACHER, the most basic education job, DOESN’T REQUIRE A DEGREE? que que? What kind of world is this? If they wanted to present the option of college realistically, they should have had way more college-oriented jobs. Unless of couse they skewed this game’s concept reality to mirror people’s (aka key demographic they are trying to sell this to) perceptions of reality… Hmm…

    4) As a semi-artist getting her degree, in this game of life, I’d be taking a detour according to their life view, or what’s supposed to be the way life is. But again, I feel like anyone who has their own idea of handling of life would have beef with this game, whether it’s an adult who’s already halfway, or an undergrad *coughcough* going through a quarter-life crisis. But of course, were children the ones who played this game the most? Hmm…

    But then we’ve already established, my life goal isn’t to retire early, it’s to enjoy my work, look for knowledge, live within my means, and indulge in the simple things. But that’s just my view. I didn’t make a board game about MY life views. ugh.

    ***Bonus fun, let’s look at the “LIFE tiles” and see what nuggets of wisdom and chance are granted randomly. I bet that would be pretty interesting…

  • Jake
    Posted at 14:43h, 20 October

    I grew up with The Game of Life in the house (the ’77 version or perhaps an ’80s revision of the same, which had a quite different career-selection mechanic in which not going to university was actually a pretty bad idea), but the game I remember as most relating to career-tracks was, (surprise, surprise) Careers (the ’79 version), which seemed to have a more healthy attitude towards one’s life goals in a lot of ways: your goals weren’t purely financial, college was a significant means to an end but not the only one, and different career paths corresponded to different goals.

  • mary
    Posted at 04:23h, 22 October

    Now I will have to look at the rules from my old box to see how hetero-normative the game is. Our game had pink and blue pegs for the sexes and at least when I played as a kid, family configurations were always played in a traditional nuclear pattern.

  • Greg C.
    Posted at 18:50h, 25 October

    Please note that when Reuben Kramer designed the current version of THE GAME OF LIFE, in 1960 (the original and very different version was designed by Mr. Milton Bradley a century before that), far -fewer- jobs than today required an academic credential, and blue collar jobs were far more available and better paid than today, our unions net yet having been eviscerated.

    While your criticism may have some validity given our current conditions, please be aware that this game is more than 50 years old, and depicts a very different (and arguably better) America.

  • Pingback:Blog Update 2 « Ashlyn's Blog
    Posted at 18:28h, 20 November

    […] a few interesting posts. One of the posts I found exceptionally attention-worthy was the post about The Game Of Life. The author looks at the game of life in relation to the purpose that the game shows and the […]