I wasn’t a bit surprised when one of the first wildly successful fads of our computer age was gaming, with millions of young people and adults (NOT ME, I hasten to add) playing electronic video games like those offered on Xbox and PlayStation and then later playing a million others on their personal computers.
I think games have a unique allure for us because we first learn to love them in early childhood. As little ones, we find this competitive form of play, which is regulated by rules, endlessly challenging and fun since we can win a game not just by skill or strength but also, for those of us possessing neither, sometimes by luck.
But luck only takes us so far. If you’re like me and had a sibling quite a bit older than you as your first game partner, you soon became frustrated by their more advanced skills. I still remember my first game: Hide & Seek. My sister, who was usually quite loving towards her kid brother, became a different person when we played this game.Not only could she find all my outdoor hiding places within an embarrassing matter of seconds; she also delighted in hiding within secret spots that I remained oblivious to when it was my time to do the seeking. No wonder the game is not called “Hide & Find”; I did endless seeking but virtually no finding whatsoever. And her personality during these games did become so uncharacteristically fierce that we should have called our game “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde & Seek.”
But even from a tender age I could always beat my sister and most others at my favorite game: Hot-Warm-Cold. As you surely know, this was a more sophisticated, indoor version of Hide & Seek in which someone hides a very small object in a very large room and then the seeker is called back into the room to find it.
In this game the seeker is guided by the other players, calling out directions of “Hot!", "Warm!", or "Cold!” depending on how close the seeker comes to the desired object. I couldn’t have been more than nine years old when I discovered that there was often one opponent who couldn’t help stealing an unconscious glance at where the item actually resided. I already learned way back then to read an opponent’s face for an eye-shift or other "tell" that immediately clued me in to where the “hottest” spot was.
This knowledge also came in handy ten years later on Friday nights when I was in high school. Other teenagers had to cut lawns, empty wastebaskets, or shovel snow to earn extra spending money. I only had to play poker once a week with my patsies—um, I mean my “buddies.”
And since we’re on the subject of games, let me register here my objection to the cliche “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” My competitive sister taught me as a child the dishonesty of that platitude. She showed me that games are all about winning. That’s what makes it a GAME, for goodness sakes.
Now, being elderly, I understand that a life fully worth living is in no way like a game. Yes, we sometimes wrongly conclude that there are winners and losers in life. But there are not. And, yes, there are rules in life, but sometimes, as opposed to in games, breaking them can be much wiser than following them. During my college years, it seemed my parents’ rule was that I’d go on to med school and become an orthopedist. I broke that rule and became a doctor who could never repair a broken bone but could always fix a split infinitive.
And a successful life is not about skills, strength, and luck; it is instead about love, gratitude, and purpose. l am so fortunate to have a sister who also helped teach me those three virtues by her example.
And life is about connecting with people rather than competing against them. The more people who love us, as family or as friends, the richer our lives seem to be. If we were to name life after an old-fashioned childhood game, it might be “Tag“ since all of us do indeed end up feeling like “It” on quite a few occasions, or it might be called “Telephone” since communicating with others is such an essential constant. There are many names we could attach to our journey from childhood through old age, but given the profound enrichment most of us find through melding our hearts to others', there is one game name that we could never label a life well-lived: Solitaire.