October 02, 2021

Trevor Macduff

All I Need to Know About Life, I Learned from Games

Topics: Education


Life gets complicated. It’s hard to find a rule book, understand teams, or acknowledge whether there’s even an objective.

Having spent the better part of my life playing games with friends and family, I’ve come to realize there may be more to spending time at the card table or board game than just whiling away the time. Many things that helped move me through life have been learned by playing games.

The rules are flexible

Don’t get me wrong, we gotta play by the rules, but how many of us grew up drawing a kazillion Uno cards until we found the one we could finally play, only to have Uno tweet out a couple years ago that you only need to draw one card. This was the bane of most of my 4th grade year. 

Every Friday we’d have some game time in class and someone always ended up with half the deck in their hands because they kept drawing from the pile. I’m guessing that somewhere in the rules (that no one bothered to read) it said you only draw one card, but we had developed a cultural rule and just went with it. So we were actually playing by rules, we just weren’t following the rules provided by the manufacturer.

This can happen in life as well. 70 mph is a pretty good suggestion. Sometimes the 10-piece chicken nuggets have 12 pieces in it. And sometimes your 4 year old has no clue how to actually play Blokus, but keeps asking you to play daily. So you play, and you simply agree upon some basic rules she can understand because playing the game together is the important thing.

Sure we need rules, and in most situations there are some loose understandings that we can consider rules, but just like playing games, we can modify these as long as we all agree. Because the important thing is doing life together.

Winning and losing aren’t as important as playing nice

That 4 year old usually lets me win. It’s not that I’m better at the games we make up on the fly. It’s just that at the end of the game she’s so happy to cheer me on and declare me the winner by whatever standard she has created that I just let her. Today she actually beat me at Chutes and Ladders. I kept getting a slide down from the top row. She kept needing reminders to follow the numbered squares in order. She was happy for me when I got the big ladder and took an early lead. She was ecstatic when she won. But it wasn’t that she was gloating, she was just excited to reach the end.

In life, we’ll all reach the end eventually. At that point, it won’t matter how much you’ve accumulated, how many properties you own, how many hotels you’ve built, or if you ever landed on Free Parking. What will be remembered is how you played the game. Winning at life might be something we try to learn how to do in school and something we chase for our careers, but no one gets dealt back in once you’re out. It is way better to enjoy the ride and enjoy the people who are along for the ride with you.

Take care of your game pieces

There’s hardly anything more frustrating than getting to the end of the pile in Go Fish and realizing that the nine of clubs is completely missing and you’ll never get the full set that you’ve been guarding the whole game. 

Every game has game pieces. It’s worth the time at the end of play to make sure you clean up carefully so you can enjoy the next round. Every so often we’ll go through our cupboard and discard games that have lost too many pieces. 

In life, we’ve got our game piece, namely, our body. You’ve got seasons to go through, so make sure you pause to take care of your game piece. Get some exercise, take a mental health day, be in nature, laugh with friends, eat a salad. 

It’s more fun when you play with others

After watching Queen’s Gambit, I realized just how much chess you could learn simply by reading books and playing by yourself. With practice boards and books, you can replicate nearly every masters tournament. And with modern technology, you can practice against the computer set to various levels and styles. But what fun is that?

Games are meant to be played in groups, against living opponents with human foibles and fascinating histories. Your game time should be an opportunity to connect with them and challenge yourself to become a better person through the joy of play. Just like in life, we shouldn’t go it alone. We’re always better off when we’re in a community. 

Don’t get stuck on just one game

My family had a large game cabinet while I was growing up. Both sets of my grandparents had full game closets. As kids we were encouraged to try a variety of sports. High school athletes today are strongly encouraged to participate in multiple sports to help build up different muscle groups and learn more about their body. 

Variety is the spice of life and there’s no reason that you need to get locked into a career, hobby, or lifestyle that doesn’t give you joy. It can take time to learn a new game or courage to start something new.

Sure, we had our favorite games growing up, but we always had so many options. It takes time to invest in learning a new game, but it’s even easier to connect with folks who understand what you want to learn. So take up the guitar, learn to knit, join a ping-pong league, grow tomatoes. Add a new ‘game’ to your life and see where it takes you. We only get one trip through this theme park, so we should try as many rides as we can! 

Author’s Bio

Headshot Trevor-jpg

Trevor Macduff has been a Science/STEAM teacher in southeastern Washington for the past 25 years. He’s spoken at national and regional conferences on innovative methods for integrating technology and standards into the classroom. His passion is helping other teachers find their groove in the classroom by recognizing that there really is no box to be thinking outside of. He has been recognized as a NASA STEM Distinguished Leader, Henry Ford Innovator Grand Champion, and a Smithsonian TII Ambassador. If Trevor isn’t in the classroom, you can find him listening to audiobooks while driving his 12 children around to their various activities or running SILAS Education, a nonprofit he created to bring to life a 32-mile radius scale model of the Solar System.

A Note From ThinkFun

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